The energy and excitement around plant-based foods was palpable at Expo West 2023 in Anaheim, California. The go-to tradeshow for new innovation, leading trends, and expert insights on the natural product space, Expo West garners thousands of attendees and exhibitors every year. With such an extensive showfloor and in-depth educational programming, it can be hard for exhibitors to stand out but we can say with confidence that our PBFA members and the hundreds of plant-based food companies who were showcasing their products made quite the impression on industry buyers, media, and show attendees. 

Colloquially known as the “Super Bowl” of food, Expo West is a great opportunity to assess the landscape for food trends and make predictions for what categories and types of plant-based foods will be seeing a boom in coming months and years. 

This year, as part of our “The State of Plant-Based and Alternative Proteins” panel series, Julie Emmett and Linette Kwon from PBFA’s Marketplace Development team presented new research, done in collaboration with 84.51°, titled “Uncovering the Unmet Needs of Plant-Based Consumers” that revealed insights into opportunities for growth and innovation as identified by Kroger’s plant-based shoppers. As PBFA CEO Rachel Dreskin shared in her opening remarks for the panel, the new variety of plant-based foods being sampled on the Expo West showfloor illustrate brands are already anticipating and responding to many of these “unmet needs.” The plant-based foods industry is incredibly unique in its ability to listen to consumers and develop innovative products that align with their values, needs, and wants. 

While there are numerous brands offering new foods that align with these core consumer trends, here is a roundup of a few that stood out: 

1. Global Cuisines and Convenience

As the Unmet Needs study highlighted, plant-based consumers want bold, layered spices and culturally relevant foods that are quick and easy to prepare. One great example of this is PBFA member Strong Root’s new “Good Made Easy” frozen meal product line featuring options like Thai Green Veg Curry, Greek Orzo Pasta Bake, Veggie Masala, and Chickpea And Red Lentil Saag.  Member Omni Foods also brought down the house with their new line of potstickers and gochujang and teriyaki flavor plant-based pork bao buns. Planet Based Foods taquitos (paired brilliantly on the showfloor with fellow member Violife’s cheese) PBFA member BeanVivo’s heat and eat refried beans with plant-based chorizo elevated the convenience game. A few other stand outs include Konscious Foods california roll and kale gomae, and Actual Veggies southwestern black bean and eggplant chickpea balls, HeyDay Canning Co coconut curry chickpeas and kimchi sesame navy beans, A Dozen Cousins coconut rice and cuban black beans, and many more that dazzled our taste buds. 

2. New Ingredients Leveling Up Nutrition and Sustainability

Plant-based foods are at the cutting edge of product innovation and this year’s show demonstrated the incredible ways companies are pioneering the use of new novel ingredients that raise the bar on product sustainability and nutrition. Big Mountain Foods’ new Fava Bean Feta, boasting 33 grams of protein per pack, was nominated as a Nexty Award finalist. Emerging brand Pancakes from Scratch utilizes spelt and chickpea flour as the base of their pancake mix, frying batter, and french toast mix. 

The conversation around sustainable ingredients made headway on the showfloor with brands using a diverse array of new novel ingredients. Member WhatIf Foods makes their plant-based milks and noodles from Bambara Groundnut (aka BamNuts), a nut grown in Tamale, Northern Ghana that thrives in arid conditions and actively helps to regenerate soil. PBFA member Terviva recently partnered with Aloha to launch their sustainable Ponova Oil, an innovative oil produced from pongamia trees using regenerative farming practices.

Leveraging the versatility and sustainability of mushrooms, companies like PBFA member MyForest Foods, maker of incredible bacon, and Meati, who debuted whole cut steak and fried chicken, showcased delicious mycelium-based meats. Improving ocean health and boosting nutrition profile is a strong selling point for seaweed and products like Avafina’s plant-based “chiaviar,” Akua’s new kelp burger, and Rootless’ daily bites demonstrate the versatility of this growing ingredient.

3. Cheese Galore

As we know from our Plant Based Migration Analysis report with Kroger, plant-based shoppers who are engaged with plant-based cheese are some of the most loyal across the plant-based sector. With this in mind, marketplace leaders in foodservice and retail should take note of the growing wave of plant-based cheeses that are going above and beyond to meet consumer’s desire for creamy texture, meltability, and craveability. PBFA member Daiya announced their forthcoming launch of plant-based cheeses that use fermentation technology to create, as CEO Michael Watts called, “[a] sensorial explosion of taste and texture.” Plant-based cream cheese is also having a particularly exciting moment with member companies like Moocho, Oatly and PlantPerks offering a variety of flavors. PLNT teased the upcoming launch of their decadent plant-based cheese schnitzel. Bel Brands also showed off the delicious functionality of plant-based ingredients with their dairy-free version of their fan-favorite Boursin. Other innovative launches include Climax Foods, a company that uses AI-informed formulas to create plant-based blue cheese, brie, and chevré from seeds, legumes and plant oils.

These are just a few examples of the amazing plant-based brands who are leading the way in meeting consumer needs and wants. From decadent cultural favorites, to grab and go options that help busy folks eat well, and new varieties of foods that push the limit for what many thought was even possible for plant-based, these outstanding brands are building the excitement around plant-based and creating new market opportunities that are sure to be met by eager – and hungry – consumers.

A whopping 66% of respondents to the Unmet Needs research agreed with the following statement: “I think in 100 years there will be more options available. I think more products will be perfected as far as taste and texture. I think there will be things that we have not even thought of yet.” Given what we witnessed on the Expo West showfloor, we believe this future is already well underway!