The plant-based food and beverage movement is obvious to anyone who attended the 2019 National Restaurant Show last year (rest in peace 2020), and it has only increased in popularity during Covid-19 along with animal protein shortages. (Note that parts of this post appeared in June 2020).

The 2019 Show Highlighted Several Plant-Based Protein Start-Ups, 2020 Would Have Doubled Its Presence

Last May, plant-based vendors were found in each of the three exhibition halls of Chicago’s McCormick Place, ranging from Hodo Foods pre-seasoned and braised tofu to the JUST scrambled egg alternative made from mung beans.

Manufacturers partnered in showcasing their plant-based foods while supporting each other’s core competencies. Signature Breads products were used across a number of vendors, including the bread for Good Catch Foods plant-based tuna sandwiches. Tofurky includes Follow Your Heart cheese in their new plant-based pockets, which will be rolled out to foodservice accounts, focused in K-12 and College & University, this year.

The Plant-Based Foods Association had its first trade show booth promoting its members’ products. They unveiled their plant-based grab-and-go case featuring chef-crafted recipes in an accessible, small-footprint display. They will focus early adoption in Colleges & Universities but plan to expand into several non-commercial segments longer term. This provides an option for operators looking to keep food costs down but to still attract a young, ethically-conscious consumer group who clamor for plant-based offerings.

The next category of focus in plant-based alternatives continues to be seafood. With no industry leader in this category, it is ripe for first-mover advantage and exponential growth. There were crab cakes made from plant protein at Good Catch Foods and Ocean Hugger Foods introduced an eel replacement made from eggplant to support their raw tuna alternative made from tomato.

Meat and milk alternatives were also prevalent around the show, with oatmilk featured at several vendor booths as a standalone beverage or added to coffee. The crowded Impossible Foods booth surrounded by showgoers clamoring for a plant-based taco or slider is a testimony to how this isn’t just a fad.

As long as they can keep up with the rapidly growing demand, these plant-based food and beverage manufacturers are here to stay and Covid-19 has only accelerated their presence.

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Julie Heseman is a Principal with Foodservice IP. Julie has several years of experience in the foodservice industry managing projects, developing new business, handling P&Ls, market sizing, supply chain research and overseeing the growth of client portfolios. Her experience spans foodservice manufacturers, broadline distributors, and chain restaurant operators.