Expo West, which is held in March in Los Angeles at the Anaheim Convention Center, boasted over 2,700 exhibitors and 50,000 attendees filling the venue’s 480,000 square feet. It’s the largest natural food tradeshow in the U.S., and Green Queen was on the ground.
As I walked the Expo West aisles, alt protein seemed to outnumber conventional meat and dairy, both in numbers and quality.
After two years of Zoom, it was so inspiring to see so many alternative protein brands and engage with all the exciting innovation that has happened in the space over the last two years in person.
Suffice to say, given the magnitude of the event, there was not enough time to see it all. The halls buzzed with energy and the aisles were so packed that at times it felt as if I were trying to make my way to the main stage at Coachella. From industry panel discussions to food trucks to constant selfies, to a concert stage and brand-sponsored happy hours, there was not a moment to waste, not to mention rows and rows of booths to visit.
I spent my first day at the Hot Products Exhibit and worked my way through the Specialty Foods Halls on Day 2 and 3. Unlike at the Plant-Based World Expo, Expo West does feature animal-based products. But as I walked the aisles, alt protein seemed to outnumber conventional meat and dairy, both in numbers and quality.
There was a wave of exciting new products with plant-based seafood front and center and on the menu at almost every booth – fish sticks, crab cakes, salmon burgers, and even sushi. In terms of ingredients, chickpeas and dates seemed to be hot commodities, and used in everything under the sun from yogurts to snacks, power bars, chocolate and even, cheese.
So, what caught my eye and tickled my taste buds? Here are my Expo West Top Ten (in no particular order):
1) Current Foods Sushi Grade Seafood
I didn’t give up seafood because I didn’t care for how it tasted. In fact, quite the opposite. I was a pescatarian before becoming vegetarian and eventually vegan. I could eat sashimi and sushi every day for the rest of my life and never complain.
To say that I have missed it is an understatement, so when I bit into Current Foods’s salmon, I thought I had died and gone to cruelty-free seafood heaven. There was absolutely no distinction from real salmon. The texture, appearance, and flavor were all 100% there, down to those sharp edges one expects from high-quality sashimi. I got the same exact mouthfeel from my sushi eating days. I went for the salmon first because that’s always been my favorite fish, but the tuna is just as spot-on and delicious.
What’s It Made Of? Current Foods seafood is made from ingredients like algae, radish, potato, and bamboo.
Where Can I Buy It? You can go to Current Foods’ website to find out where it’s sold near you and to sign up for pre-launch access to a new online shop. In California, it’s available at Gelson’s, Erewhon, and Poke Bar and nationwide online at GTFO It’s Vegan.
2) OmniFoods Golden Fillet
I had really been looking forward to trying the new OmniFoods seafood products (our founder Sonalie raves about them) and the Golden Fillet, a fried fish fillet, did not disappoint. It was perfectly crispy on the outside and it delivered on the fried fishy taste you want from your fish & chips. Add some plant-based aioli or tartar sauce and you’ve got yourself a great tasting seafood appetizer or entrée.
What’s It Made Of? Omni Golden Fillets are made with a protein blend of Non-GMO Soy, Pea, Rice, and non-GMO Expeller-Pressed Canola Oil.
Where Can I Buy It? The OmniFoods Seafood range will be available in the U.S. later this year.
3) Future Farm Burger
It’s no secret I’m a fan of the entire Future Farm product range, but it was definitely a unique experience to be able to taste and compare the Future Farm Burger against the NotCo burger in the same afternoons. Future Farm was serving their signature grilled smoked burger, with cheese sauce and pickled burger relish and it was noticeably juicier and tastier than NotCo’s.
I was disappointed by how dry the NotCo burger tasted in comparison, especially since it was on my list of new products to try. The Future burger is much closer in taste and texture to a traditional burger and, to me, even better than its biggest U.S. competitor Impossible burger!
What’s It Made Of? Future Farm burgers are made with a vegetable protein blend of soy, pea, chickpea, and coconut fat.
Where Can I Buy It? The Future Burger can be purchased in the U.S. online at GTFO It’s Vegan with a full retail launch expected this year.
4) Field Roast Classic Style Sausage, Egg & Cheese Plant-Based Breakfast Sandwich made with JUST Egg
There were also quite a few ready-to-heat breakfast sandwiches being served as you walked around Expo West in the mornings. I tried Field Roast, Alpha Foods, and Hungry Planet breakfast sandwiches, all of which featured their respective plant-based breakfast sausages.
They were all very tasty and it was extremely hard to pick a winner, but in the end, Field Roast’s was my favorite. The sandwich includes Field Roast’s Plant-Based Breakfast Sausage Patty, a slice of Creamy Original Cheese from Field Roast’s Chao Creamery, and a folded vegan egg from JUST Egg, all perfectly sandwiched in an English muffin for a 100% plant-based tasty bite.
What’s It Made Of? The main protein in Field’s RoastBreakfast sausage is pea-based while Chao Creamery cheese uses a combination of tofu, potato starch and coconut oil. JUST Egg’s star ingredient is mung bean.
Where Can I Buy It? The Field Roast Classic Style Sausage, Egg & Cheese Plant-Based Breakfast Sandwich is sold online at Field Roast’s website and at Whole Foods Markets nationwide. It will also be available for purchase at Peet’s Coffee very soon.
5) The Very Good Butchers Ribz
I was never a ‘beefanatic,’ but the two beef-based foods I enjoyed eating back in the day were burgers and, you guessed it, BBQ ribs. Of course we have ribs in Brazil, but not BBQ ribs. I was introduced to this marvellous all-American invention in college, and it was love at first bite.
Being vegan, I honestly never thought I’d be able to satisfy that craving and eat BBQ ribs again. That is until I tried The Very Good Butchers Ribz, which delivers that smokey mouthfeel you expect from an authentic southern BBQ rib. The texture is slightly on the chewier side, but that didn’t really bother me and it wouldn’t keep me from eating it again and again. And again. Ribz comes in a few different flavors including Smoky BBQ, Maple Bourbon BBQ, and Southern Gold BBQ.
What’s It Made Of? Made with organic jackfruit, wheat gluten, BBQ sauce, water, tahini, salt, nutritional yeast, natural liquid smoke, apple cider vinegar, and spices.
Where Can I Buy It? The Ribz are sold online on The Very Good Butchers website and at e-commerce platforms like Amazon.
6) Outstanding Foods’ Outstanding Cheese Balls
The cheese balls are the latest addition to the Outstanding Foods range, which includes rinds and puffs, and they are truly outstanding. Hands down their best snack to date! The Bacon Chedda flavor I tried is a perfect mouth-watering combo of sharp cheddar and smoky bacon, so much so that it’s hard to tell you’re eating a plant-based snack. Each 1-ounce pack comes packed with 4 grams of protein and 20 vitamins & minerals, so you can snack away guilt-free.
What’s It Made Of? A rice and pea protein base with a proprietary blend of nutrients extracted from whole organic vegetables.
Where Can I Buy It? Outstanding Foods snacks are sold online and at major retail chains like Whole Foods Market and 7-Eleven.
7) Revolution Gelato Pies
At the Revolution Gelato booth you could sample their award-winning gelato, of course, but also their brand-new full-size gelato pies. The pies come in two flavors, Pumpkin and Turtle.
The Pumpkin Gelato pie is made of Revolution’s pumpkin gelato in a graham cracker crust while the Turtle Gelato pie features vanilla gelato in a chocolate cookie crust topped with pecans and drizzled with caramel & chocolate topping. I tried both pies, but the pumpkin had me at hello. I love gelato, I love pumpkin, I love pies. Thank you Revolution Gelato for bringing all of these three things together in an insanely good plant-based dessert that is sure to be a hit at any vegan holiday dinner party!
What’s It Made Of? All Revolution Gelato is made with a blend of cashew butter and coconut.
Where Can I Buy It? The Turtle Pie is launching this Summer while the Pumpkin Pie will be available in the Fall just in time for this year’s holiday season. Revolution Gelato is available at select retailers in the US, Caribbean, and online via their website.
8) Violife Cocospread
Violife’s brand new Cocospread could be dubbed Violife’s Chocolate Mousse. It is super creamy and thick like a spread should be, but it also melts in your mouth just like a mousse. It was paired with fresh strawberries which really bought out the chocolatey flavor. Is there a better flavor combo than chocolate and strawberries? It was so good I’m afraid I won’t be spreading it with a knife, but eating it with a spoon! Thank heavens it’s only a quarter of the sugar, half the fat, and half the calories of your typical chocolate spread.
What’s It Made Of? Made with Filtered Water, Coconut Oil, Brown Sugar, Cocoa, Potato Starch, Dried Banana Powder, Flavor (vegan sources), Lactic Acid, Salt (Sea Salt), Olive Extract, Vitamin B12.
Where Can I Buy It? Violife products are sold nationwide at major grocery stores like Kroeger’s, Albertsons, Vons, Bristol Farms, Sprouts, and Whole Foods.
9) Betterland Foods Whole Cow Free Milk
Betterland Foods‘s Whole Cow Free Milk is the first alt protein milk made with Perfect Day’s animal-free whey protein. It comes in two versions: Whole, which is the one I tasted at the Expo, and Extra Creamy.
But let’s cut to the chase: how did it taste? The milk color was there (white) and it even formed bubbles just like regular milk, but it tasted a bit sweeter than cow’s milk and closer to lactose-free milk than regular milk. Lactose-free milk is all that I drank when I was a vegetarian, so I really enjoyed the flavor.
Using dairy protein alone, whey in this case, clearly doesn’t make plant-based milk taste like conventional milk and that’s because there are other ingredients in the mix too. Still, when it hit my taste buds, I got the closest mouthfeel you get from real milk, more than with any plant-based milk I’ve had to date – including my fave, NotCo’s NotMilk. It may not taste 100% like the real deal the same way Perfect Day’s Brave Robot ice-cream and Modern Kitchen cream cheese do, but it was tasty enough to make it into my top 10 list.
What’s It Made Of? Made with Perfect Day animal-free dairy whey protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and a supplement called MCT oil (medium-chain triglyceride), among other ingredients. It has 8 grams of protein— more than your average plant-based milk — less fat than whole milk, and a third of the sugar. It’s lactose-free, but because it contains real dairy proteins, anyone with a whey allergy shouldn’t drink it.
Where Can I Buy It? Betterland’s Cow Free Milks will be available to consumers later this spring.
10) Miyoko’s Cultured Plant Milk Cottage Cheese
Cultured Cottage Cheese is the newest plant-based cheese product from Miyoko’s Creamery and if you missed cottage cheese, you’ll love this! I’m pretty sure it’s the first-ever vegan cottage cheese in the market, but then again Miyoko’s Creamery is known for its innovation in the space having launched a liquid mozzarella last year – I mean, who else makes vegan liquid mozz?
The cottage cheese delivers the same mild salty cheesiness taste and curd texture minus all that excess liquid (whey) that makes dairy cottage cheese soupy at times. It also comes packed with 10 grams of plant protein per serving.
What’s It Made Of? Organic watermelon seed milk and sunflower seed milk.
Where Can I Buy It? Miyoko’s Cultured Cottage Cheese will be available in retail stores in 2023.
A few great products that are worth mentioning, despite not making my top 10.
- Elmhurst OatNog – There’s no way I was going to pass off the chance to try plant-based Eggnog and Elmhurst’s oat milk version has the right amount of spiciness, and I could definitely taste the cinnamon and nutmeg, but it didn’t quite deliver on the thick creaminess you expect from a ‘nog.’ It’s also white, rather than creamy yellow.
- TMRW Shreds– These TMRW pea protein bits were really tasty, if a little chewy. Bonus points for the uber cool futuristic sci-fi-like packaging.
- Mush Ready-to-Eat Oats – I’m a big fan of overnight oats for breakfast but I’m also a tough critic since I make my own so I’ve got high standards. I tried Mush’s Apple Cinnamon first and then I just had to try the Vanilla Bean too. My only regret is that I didn’t sample every single one of the six flavors because they’re so good, I could have them for dessert and not just breakfast.
Naturli’ Butter – I was introduced to Naturli’ Butter for the first time at the Plant-Based Expo in New York last year. I just had to have it again at Expo West and it’s just as spot-on when it comes to texture, taste, and appearance as I remembered. If you’ve been waiting for more delicious plant-based butter options, I’m happy to report that the wait is finally over because Naturli’ Butter is launching in the U.S. this year.
I can honestly say that I left Expo West 2022 feeling inspired and hopeful for the future of food, animals, and our planet. Can’t wait to do it all over again in 2023!
Special Note: Many booths were running out of their hero products fast. They were flying off the griddles faster than they were being cooked and sadly, I had to keep moving. After all, there were over 2,700 exhibitors and only one of me! Some of the vegan food items I was really looking forward to trying but didn’t get a chance to include: VFC’s new chicken patty, Good Catch’s salmon burgers and Crafty Counter’s hard boiled WunderEgg. Not to worry, I’m happy to receive post expo samples and write a “10 Best Products I Didn’t Get to Try at Expo West 2022” sequel.
Lead image courtesy of Alessandra Franco for Green Queen Media.