Skip to main content

Author: Ben Davis

Benjamin Davis oversees the programming for the world’s first and only fully plant-based trade expo and accompanying news site. Ben’s mission is to make delicious, natural foods accessible to everyone. He believes that diet and lifestyle are the keys to a balanced and prosperous future for all beings on Earth. Outside of his work in food, Ben is a music producer and performer under the stage name Vibe Street. Ben is determined to spend his life building community and celebrating this mysterious human experience to the fullest!

Looking to 2024: What do Gardein and Oatly Have in Store?

As we enter 2024 we are faced with an increasingly pivotal moment in our cultural evolution, with food choices at the core of what has the greatest impact on our daily lives. This crucial juncture is felt as we gear up for Plant Based World Expo North America taking place this September 11-12 at the Javits Center in New York City. I am thrilled that two of my personal favorite product manufacturers, Gardein and Oatly, are set to take the stage as exhibitors, setting the bar high for innovation.

Gardein holds a special place in my foodie heart, particularly their “Ultimate” line of plant-based “chick’n” nuggets, tenders, and patties. To me, what sets Gardein apart is their ability to offer a satisfying, crispy delight without overdoing the “chicken flavor” – a common pitfall I find in other chicken alternatives. Their products are versatile, perfect for a quick snack or as part of a more elaborate meal like a chicken parmesan, pizza topping or sandwich. Since my first introduction to their line of products at Plant Based World Expo 2021, I’ve been continually impressed by the quality of flavor and texture. The anticipation for what Gardein will unveil in 2024 is high and I will be heading for their booth the moment the show floor opens on September 11!

Oatly, on the other hand, brings back the joy of sipping milk straight from the carton. There are a select few plant-based milks that I can truly enjoy drinking straight, as I would have as child before bed, and Oatly is at the very top of that list. Their oat milk is a creamy, nostalgic experience, unparalleled in the market (from my taste buds’ perspective). And let’s not forget their chocolate oat milk, which brings me back to the chugging from those brown cartons in the elementary school lunch room! Thanks to Oatly, these moments are now re-livable as an adult and fully in alignment with a plant-based lifestyle! With Oatly expanding their range to include creamers, ice creams, and more, I’m eager to see their latest innovations at the 2024 Expo.

So, consider this my rallying cry to all plant-based industry game-changers! I want to see the best of the best that the plant-based market has to offer. As we begin 2024, I call upon my fellow industry trailblazers to join Gardein and Oatly and make this Expo a landmark event.

Let’s bring our most daring plant-based creations to the forefront. Let’s inspire the grocery stores and restaurants of the future to align with our cause. And most importantly, let’s inspire each other to expand our ideas of what’s possible. As we set our intentions and flip the page on the calendar year, let’s show the world the power of plant-based cuisine and elevate our community to new heights!

Gratitude for an Ever-Evolving Plant-Based Journey

In 2018, when I penned the business plan for the first Plant Based World Expo, my conviction was absolute: the world needed to go vegan. Back then, my diet was heavily reliant on plant-based meat alternatives, which I believed were the linchpin for weaning the world off animal protein. My definition of an “ethical food system” was straightforward – no animal killings.

However, the ensuing five years, which saw the inception of seven Plant Based World Expos from New York to London, have been a humbling odyssey of personal and professional growth. In this journey, I’ve had the privilege to taste and experience nearly everything the plant-based food universe has to offer and connect with inspiring individuals from around the globe. This exposure has subtly yet profoundly reshaped my perspectives.

One of the most palpable shifts has been in my dietary preferences. Gradually, my body began to yearn for whole foods over heavily processed alternatives. While I maintain that plant-based meats will continue to play a crucial role in our collective dietary evolution, my personal diet has transitioned towards something more real, regenerative, and rejuvenating. I still crave a meaty treat from time to time, but am actively on the lookout for cleaner labels and novel ingredients that achieve that “meatiness” without excessive processing. Mushrooms have become my best friend, and the fungi kingdom remains my number one trend to look out for as our food system continues to evolve towards more natural and wholesome ingredients!

This evolution extended beyond just my physical diet; it was a philosophical awakening. Interacting with diverse individuals, I recognized that veganism isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. This realization compelled me to let go of my judgments and expectations of others. It’s a path of personal choice, and what works for one may not resonate with another.

Most importantly, my understanding of what constitutes an ethical and compassionate food system has broadened. True veganism, I’ve come to realize, is more than a dietary choice; it’s a way of life that embodies compassion in all dealings and interactions. The essence of the movement aligns closely with ‘Ahimsa’ – the Sanskrit term for non-violence in its highest form. Choosing to eat plants instead of animals is one way to embody this concept, but it cannot end there. Ahimsa extends outward, bringing compassion into all interactions, with humans, animals, my environment and most importantly, my own self.

Embracing this philosophy has allowed me to be more gentle on myself. To release my judgements of my own imperfections and feel more free. Simultaneously it has allowed me to develop a heightened standard for the businesses, projects and products I support. My eye is now more keen than ever to recognize when a company is truly “walking the walk”, from how they embody their mission to the way they communicate and how they show up in the community. I am less easily-fooled and more eager than ever to support the projects that resonate with authenticity and connectedness… the true essence behind the plant-based food movement.

As I reflect on this journey, I invite you, our readers, to introspect how your values are mirrored in your professional life. In a world craving truth, conscience, and balance, imagine the collective impact when each of us intentionally infuse our day to day work with a little extra honesty, empathy, and loving mindfulness. What kind of world will we create and share with one another?

This is not just a call to action; it’s an invitation to join me on this ever-evolving journey. Together, let’s redefine what it means to be a part of the plant-based world, not just in what we eat, but in how we live, work, and relate to one another and our planet.

Veganuary 2024: Embrace the Challenge and Tap Into the Movement

Hello, fellow taste-makers and trailblazers! As we gear up for an exciting year ahead, there’s a flavor-packed opportunity knocking at your business’s door: Veganuary. This isn’t just about plant-based eats; it’s about seizing a golden chance to make your business thrive, not just in January but well into the future of our evolving food scene.

Embracing the Veganuary Wave

Veganuary isn’t your usual trend; it’s a movement that’s been gaining ground faster than a chef can chop onions. Millions worldwide are diving into a month of plant-based exploration every January. In its most basic sense, Veganuary challenges eaters across the world to sign up for the “challenge”. That challenge is to eat vegan for the entire month of January. What does this mean for food businesses? Well, it’s a guaranteed uptick in demand for plant-based offerings as diners everywhere seek delicious ways to complete their Veganuary challenge.

Boosting Revenue in January and Beyond

Picture this: your business taking center stage with irresistible plant-based deals and discounts throughout January. Create a visual feast in your store or restaurant showcasing the vibrant world of vegan delights. It’s not just about this month’s revenue boost; it’s about turning curious customers into longtime fans of your plant-powered creations.

If you are a retailer or foodservice establishment looking for specific recommendations on how to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Veganuary, check out the articles we published earlier this week:

So, as we kick off the New Year, don’t just see Veganuary as a blip on the culinary calendar. See it as your secret ingredient for success. Embrace the opportunity to cater to the growing tribe of plant-based enthusiasts, and in doing so, set your business on a path of delicious prosperity.

And, for those who are truly curious about the impact the Veganuary campaign has on eaters around the world, I challenge you one step further. Head on over to the Veganuary website to learn more and sign up to participate in the challenge yourself! First hand experience is always the best education, and I guarantee you that giving veganism a shot for the month of January will lead you to a new world of delicious foods and have you feeling great all at the same time.

As food industry professionals we have the responsibility of guiding the eating habits of people everywhere. By being a part of Veganuary, either as a personal challenge participant or a business embracing the increased demand for plant-based options; you’re stirring the pot of a more sustainable, compassionate, and downright tasty food future.

The Pulse of the Marketplace: Introducing the Industry Beat Column

You may have noticed more frequent content being posted here on PULSE as of late. It’s not just a surge in information; it’s a mission in action. We’re committed to delivering daily content that covers every nook and cranny of the dynamic and ever-evolving plant-based marketplace.

We started in 2019 as a single annual trade show in New York City. From there, Plant Based World Expo Europe launched in 2021 in London. But it is not enough to simply connect 2 weeks out of the year… and that’s why we have built Plant Based World Pulse!

As part of our commitment to release relevant, digestible content on a daily basis, we’re unveiling the Industry Beat column—a dedicated space curated by yours truly that takes you beyond the usual industry updates and strategic discussions. It’s your direct line to the pulse of our community, a rhythm that mirrors the passion and ingenuity driving our movement.

This column is about the stories that go beyond profit margins and market trends. It’s about the entrepreneurs crafting the narrative with their groundbreaking products, the innovators solving real-world challenges, and the collaborations that shape the trajectory of our shared journey.

The beating heart of our community is found in the narratives of individuals who dare to innovate in the plant-based space. It’s the resilience of those who faced adversity and emerged stronger, and the creators of products that redefine our relationship with food.

So, here’s an open invitation to our community across all the diverse and integral roles you play: share your stories, your hurdles, your victories. Whether you’re an entrepreneur with a groundbreaking product, a visionary building key partnerships, or someone with a journey that encapsulates the spirit of the plant-based movement, we want to hear from you. The Industry Beat is where the business side of plant-based meets the heart and soul of purpose and community.

If you have a story that deserves to be heard, shoot me an email and let’s talk! Connect with me at [email protected].

A Growth Journey with Plant Based World Expo Europe

As we gather for the third annual Plant Based World Expo Europe at London’s grand ExCel Center this week, it is amazing to reflect on the journey that has brought us to this moment. Looking back, it’s evident that this event symbolizes the tremendous growth in the market for plant-based food, not just locally, but globally. Our evolution mirrors the burgeoning interest in plant-based options, and as we set foot in ExCel London, we realize we’ve come a long way.

Our journey wasn’t without its challenges. The initial launch in 2020 was postponed due to the turbulent environment caused by unforeseen circumstances. The following year, in 2021, we officially launched at the Business Design Centre in London, a modest yet promising beginning. That’s where our vision took root and started to grow.

In 2022, our event had outgrown its initial venue, marking a significant turning point. We stepped into the Olympia Convention Center, and it was a proud moment for us as more prominent food manufacturers and buyers began to recognize the importance of attending the event and engaging with the plant-based marketplace. We’ve now graduated to London’s most substantial event space, ExCel, for our 3rd annual trade show. Here, we have ample room to stretch our legs and serve the industry for years to come.

Our success reflects the rising consumer demand for plant-based options worldwide. Over a thousand “Hosted Buyer” meetings are scheduled, testament to the excitement of food buyers in retail and foodservice keen to embrace these products. The extensive conference program speaks volumes about the eagerness of industry thought leaders to come together, discuss challenges, seize opportunities, and collaborate on innovative solutions. The Plant-Based Taste Awards program showcases a plethora of mouthwatering products across a diversity of categories, offering retailers and restaurants a first look at the highest quality products the market has to offer.

But, what sets the Plant Based World Expo Europe apart isn’t just being another B2B trade show. We’re on a mission, committed to elevating the marketplace for plant-based foods as part of an effort towards a more sustainable and healthy world for all beings. Across the world the connection between our food choices and the health of the planet is becoming more widely accepted and appreciated. The recent decision by the United Nations to introduce a plant-forward menu at its COP28 event underscores the recognition of this profound link and indicates global governments are eager to bring this conversation to the forefront and be a part of the solution. We believe this trend is still in its infancy on a grand scale as we welcome all industry stakeholders to gather in person once again.

We extend our sincere gratitude to all who have supported the growth of Plant Based World Expo Europe since our launch in 2021. To all those who have sponsored, spoke, attended or engaged with the event in any way – your participation is a profound reflection of a global trend towards plant-forward eating. As we return to this grand stage for the third time, we stand united with the industry, ready to support the growth of this marketplace and be an integral part of this cultural movement. We’re excited about the journey that lies ahead and the positive impact we can make.

Health Is the New Wealth

Greetings, marketplace game changers! It’s your trusted guide, Benjamin Davis, here to delve into the fascinating world and business of plant-based cuisine. Today, we’re exploring a profound shift that’s taking place in the food industry—a shift towards health and mindfulness.

If you’ve been keeping your finger on the pulse of the plant-based food scene, you’ve likely noticed a remarkable transformation. It’s not merely a passing trend; it’s a movement—an awakening to the power of conscious eating that’s reshaping how we view food.

The Mindful Bite

We’ve long understood the critical link between our diets and our well-being. However, a new player has entered the arena: mindfulness. This is no ordinary wellness fad; it’s a paradigm shift in how we relate to our food.

This concept was amplified in September at Plant Based World Expo North America in New York City, where the theme of “mindful innovation” was front and center. Mindfulness and innovation expert, author Matt Mueller, presented a dynamic opening keynote on the topic and inspired deeper thought into how mindfulness intersects with the plant-based food marketplace.

Mindfulness isn’t about esoteric practices or abstract concepts. It’s about the simple act of being fully present. When we eat this means savoring each bite, and appreciating the nourishment that sustains us. It’s about recognizing the profound implications of our dietary choices for our bodies and the planet.

This mindful revolution isn’t confined to our dining tables; it’s permeating the corporate world as well. Companies are awakening to the transformative potential of mindfulness in the workplace. By fostering a culture of well-being and presence, they’re empowering their employees to perform at their peak.

Innovation Meets Mindfulness

Now, let’s draw the connections. As health-conscious consumers increasingly seek cleaner, more nourishing options, they’re driving demand for plant-based products that align with their values. This is where innovation comes into play.

Forward-thinking companies are seizing the opportunity to incorporate mindfulness into their innovation processes. By cultivating a deep understanding of what health-conscious consumers truly desire, these companies are crafting plant-based masterpieces that not only tantalize the taste buds but also nourish the body.

A Practical Step Forward

So, how can businesses embody health and mindfulness in their innovation efforts? Here’s a practical step: the weekly team meditation. Imagine this—a group exercise where your team envisions themselves as a health-conscious shopper walking into a grocery store.

Feel the emotions, the aspirations, and the experiences of this character. As they walk up to the shelf and approach your company’s product, what is going through their head. What excites them about your packaging, about your ingredient list? What concerns them? Be brutally honest here, it is essential to witness yourself from all angles, even when you are not perfect. This is the essence of mindfulness. Witnessing yourself and evaluating for the sake of self-awareness rather than criticism creates massive space for growth and improvement.

Allow these insights to guide your team towards a profound understanding of what this customer truly needs and how your products can serve them better.

A Delicious and Mindful Future

As we stand at the precipice of a food system revolution, it’s clear that health is the new wealth. Mindfulness, both in our personal lives and corporate endeavors, is driving a profound shift in the way we approach food. The opportunity has never been greater for companies that dare to innovate mindfully, offering delectable, world-changing foods that resonate with an ever-growing audience of health-conscious eaters.

DAO Foods – Empowering Changemakers for 1.4 Billion Consumers

Plant Based World Pulse had the opportunity to sit down with Albert Tseng, co-founder of Dao Foods to discuss the massive opportunity that exists for plant-based foods in China.

A Billion Dollar Opportunity

 

Albert Tseng, co-founder of Dao Foods

“China represents a market of 1.4 billion consumers. The marketplace is currently akin to what you may have experienced in the United States about 7-8 years ago, with many products in a development phase and not too many of them yet being seen as permanent items on menus”, Tseng shares.

This perspective alone should perk up the ears of any investor in this space. If the trajectory of the Chinese marketplace follows anywhere near what we have seen in the United States, the next decade will be an exciting one for the evolution of food culture in China. Combine that with the immensity of  1.4 billion consumers with many challenges needing to be solved, and there is clearly some money to be made.

Key opportunities exist in both retail, where packaged plant-based products have not yet penetrated the shelves to their full potential and in foodservice, where highly advanced food delivery technology makes trying new things accessible for the many eaters in urban areas throughout China.

“For people living in cities in China”, Tseng shares, “it is not uncommon to be able to get food delivered to your door in under 20 minutes at no additional charge. Companies are constantly running promotions making it easy for customers to try something new once. The challenge, however, is getting those customers to repeat their purchases. There is a high volume of options to move on to something else if they have not been blown away by their first experience with a new item.”

Change is Necessary

Dao Foods mission is to support the entrepreneurs who are pushing forward to shift the food system in the face of the cultural challenges that the past few years have presented. While the global landscape has been difficult to work within, it has also made it clearer than ever that innovation is a necessary solution.  

Dao is currently invested in 16 Chinese companies committed to bringing about a healthier and more sustainable food system. These companies range from producers of meat and dairy alternatives to synthetic biology, mycelium fermentation and even cultured meat. Dao has taken a holistic approach to evolving the food system by seeking out seriously mission-driven entrepreneurs and enterprises that are tackling challenges from a wide variety of angles.
 

Collaboration in Foodservice

One of the stars of the portfolio is Starfield Food Science and Technology, a Shenzhen company focused on developing meat alternatives, prepared foods, snacks, and protein bars. Starfield recently closed a $100 million series B fundraising round, which can serve as a sign to anyone keen on investing in the Chinese market that there is some real activity and interest in bringing these products to market. Starfield is ahead of the curve, having already sold in over 37,000 locations and collaborating with recognizable names such as 7/11 and KFC. Starfield received a plethora of “New Product” awards in 2021 and will be a name to keep an eye on as the market continues to expand.

Communicating Health Benefits

Another company in the portfolio is called 70/30, based out of Shanghai. “70/30 takes a unique approach to communicating the benefits of their products. The 70 in the name represents 70% whole foods – meaning the healthy stuff that our bodies really want and need. The 30% represents fun and tasty, which is essential to get customers to try the products and come back for more. 70/30 is also unique in that their packaging leads with the functional benefits of the foods, rather than leading with the term ‘Plant-based’ or ‘vegan’”, shares Tseng.

The decision to lead with the functionality and nutrition information rather than the ‘plant-based’ labelling allows 70/30 to target customers who would not normally be looking for a plant-based option, but might just happen to try it because they are looking for those nutritional benefits. They believe in convenience as a key factor for Chinese eaters and have built a philosophy based on combining technology with ready meals to make their products as convenient and functional as possible.

The way 70/30 embodies this philosophy is fascinating. To discover the most functional white meat alternative they came across mycelium as the base ingredient. “Mushrooms have long been approved for human consumption in China due to their medicinal uses”, Tseng shares. “This made the process for 70/30 to use these ingredients easier, as they are already culturally accepted. The challenge then becomes how to use science appropriately to use that same base ingredient as a meat alternative”.  

70/30 is about to launch their ready meal products into market and represents a great example of how the plant-based industry is necessarily affected by each region’s unique culture and history. As human health continues to be a leading motivator for people to shift to plant-based foods, how interesting would it be for medicinal mushrooms, used for human health since ancient times, to play a major role in the manifestation of a healthier food system? 

Kroger and Hannaford Lead the Way with Plant Based Foods Association Partnerships

It was not long ago that a plant-based eater had to make a separate trip to a natural and organic store like Whole Foods to find a real selection of meat, dairy and other alternatives. This is no longer the case, thanks to recent programs launched by the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) in partnership with leading grocers Kroger and Hannaford.

The groundbreaking test with Kroger took place in 60 stores from late 2019 to early 2020. The data was clear: when America’s largest grocery chain placed plant-based products in the meat department, sales of those items increased by 23% on average. A clear sign to the food retail world that consumers are now looking for these products in the traditional meat aisle, and there is money to be made in offering them in this place.

More recent data has shown steep increases in consumption of plant-based food during the pandemic months with 50% growth in plant-based customers and 75% growth in sales. The numbers prove that American shoppers want healthier, more sustainable options now more than ever.

4 shelves of plant-based meats amidst the traditional animal products at Kroger. Photo courtesy of PBFA

PBFA’s newest program with leading retailer Hannaford spans beyond the meat department to the dairy and shelf-stable sections of the store. The partnership thus far has highlighted the importance of creative merchandising to drive consumer attention to the new products that are available. The Plant Based Foods Association is working directly with the grocer to shine a deserving spotlight on these sought-after foods, while also educating grocery employees to understand the benefits that these products have to offer.

Hannaford’s version of a plant-based section in the traditional meat aisle. Photo courtesy of PBFA

These efforts not only increase the bottom line for the grocery store and the brands they carry, but builds community while doing it. There is a true excitement that comes from participating in the movement towards a more plant-based world – an elevated sense of purpose that we can both do our jobs successfully and help people feel healthier and happier while doing so.

Julie Emmett, Senior Director of Retail Partnerships for PBFA, has taken the reins on these initiatives:

PBFA‘s role is to actively support the opportunities and minimize the challenges that a shift in merchandising presents. The incredible results that Kroger and Hannaford have shared have encouraged PBFA as well as major brands to create advisory teams to ensure industry-wide success of this shift in merchandising across the 17+ plant-based food categories available. The opportunity for retailers to provide shoppers with the options they crave – and to profit from those efforts – is becoming limitless!

-Julie Emmett

When the most influential grocery businesses in the United States are on the front lines of this shift, we can only expect the rest to follow. This transformation of consumer habits is here to stay and we look forward to following the great work of PBFA and their partners for many years to come!

Investing In Abundance with Big Idea Ventures

“That’s the goal, right? If we can create a range of products that satisfy everybody’s taste, then it’s not about abstinence – it’s about abundance.” -Andrew Ive, Managing General Partner, Big Idea Ventures

This message of abundance is the guiding philosophy of Andrew Ive and his team at Big Idea Ventures. This food-focused, forward-thinking firm has established itself as a unique resource for companies looking to grow within the alternative protein space.

Big Idea Venture’s mission is simple and impactful: solve the world’s biggest challenges by supporting the world’s best entrepreneurs. The proof is in the oat-milk pudding… two thirds of BIV’s first cohort of startups ended up receiving over $1 million in funding from outside investors after working with the firm. Alongside these seed funding initiatives, BIV reinvests 60% of its funds into its best companies, creating waves of impact at multiple levels.

Andrew’s work through Big Idea Venture’s is successful because it is aligned. His career started in the mainstream cosmetic retail world at Proctor and Gamble. Though, he found a deeper sense of purpose when he shifted to working in the food space.

He cites with passion, “food touches people, it touches families… and it has the power to solve many of the world’s problems related to climate, ethics and health”.

This is meaningful work, as anyone who is a part of the plant-based community can attest to. To go along with his sense of purpose, Andrew has become keenly aware of his skillset and the unique areas where he and his team are able to add value for clients.

“The things I am decent at are unpacking what’s making a company work and what’s making a company fail, and understanding the different pieces of that puzzle and how to rearrange them to help that company grow.”

Specialization at it’s finest! Andrew started out in retail, ventured into the broad world of food technology and then narrowed his focus down specifically to alternative proteins. This is the area where his energy could be used most efficiently. Three years later, Big Idea Ventures is using the resources and experience of the traditional CPG industry and applying it to a vision for a healthier world.