Plant-Based Evolution

A recent trade show highlighted latest products in this sector
Bridget Goldschmidt
Managing Editor
Bridget Goldschmidt profile picture
Plant-Based World Expo 2023
The members of the “Retail Collaboration – Merchandising Best Practices to Optimize Category Sales” panel at Plant Based World Expo 2023.



It may not be the most profound insight to take away from the recent Plant Based World Expo 2023, which was held at New York’s Javits Center this past Sept. 8-9, but the thing that struck me most was how good everything tasted. You might think that would be par for the course at a trade show where exhibitors are bound to bring their standout products for sampling, but I was at the very first Plant Based World Expo, which took place at the same venue in the far-off pre-COVID year of 2019, and back then, items tasting good wasn’t exactly a given.

What’s New

This time around, I was distinctly impressed by the vastly improved quality of plant-based cheese and jerky — the latter not usually my thing in any incarnation — along with a delicious array of other products, among them satisfying beef, chicken, seafood, pork belly, deli meat and bacon analogs; creamy nondairy butter; indulgent raw desserts; and even flavorful oat-based Key lime pie-flavored soft-serve ice cream. All of this caused me to reflect on how far food technology has advanced in this space in just four short years, and to wonder what we might expect in the next few years.

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Beyond the expo floor, the event — which drew more than 3,000 registrants, according to show organizers — offered informative speakers and exclusive networking opportunities. It was my privilege to once more moderate a panel during Plant Based World, this time on merchandising plant-based products at retail, with a stellar group of experts: Erin Harper, director of merchandising-refrigerated foods at Whole Foods Market; Nikki Smith, associate director at the Plant Based Foods Association; Leslie Imber, team lead, natural specialty and new business development at Upfield; and newly minted SPINS CEO Jay Margolis. The lively session attracted an engaged audience that asked thoughtful questions.

Plant-Based World Expo 2023
Tofurky launched two new sausage flavors and an allergen-free hot dog.

Breaking Down the ‘Invisible Barrier’

Back among the exhibitors, I caught up with Erin Ransom, SVP marketing, growth and product development at Tofurky and its sister plant-based cheese brand Moocho. Tofurky, one of the more venerable brands in the plant-based sector, was launching two new sausage flavors and, at foodservice, an allergen-free hot dog. According to Ransom, plant-based food companies need to work on broadening the scale of the industry by ensuring that prices aren’t “more onerous” than those of animal-based meats, as well as doubling down on accessibility, inclusivity and convenience to break down the “invisible barrier” that often exists between mainstream consumers and plant-based products. She also suggested ditching the lofty language often used to describe the values and aims of plant-based food producers regarding the health of people, animals and the planet, advising companies to “loosen up a little bit.”

When asked whether such tactics risked alienating longtime plant-based consumers, Ransom asserted, “If we’re not taking a risk, we’re not setting a good example for the category.” That said, she noted that while new items under development at Tofurky would be formulated to taste as much like their animal-based counterparts as possible, the company’s legacy products, like its iconic Roast, would remain the same. With plant-based eaters, as with any other consumers, you just don’t mess with the taste of the holidays — even if that taste isn’t exactly like turkey. 

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