Expo West 2023 in Numbers: 25% Vegan Booths, 100+ Alt Protein Brands, 60k Visitors
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The ‘Superbowl’ of the CPG industry takes place in California this week and future food products are gaining ground on the show floor with a quarter of the booths featuring vegan products and over 100 alternative protein companies in attendance.
Natural Products Expo West, or Expo as insiders affectionately refer to it, the New Hope Network by Informa Markets trade show and conference returns this week to the Anaheim Convention Center in California where tens of thousands of people from the natural and organic food and beverage industry will descend upon the Los Angeles-adjacent to launch, taste, sell, promote, market, negotiate and more.
While Expo West is always packed full of brands looking for retailers and B2B buyers on the lookout for star products, it’s also popular with industry experts, investors, trendspotters and journalists thanks to the show’s reputation as a hotbed for emerging brands (many of which make their national debut at the show), food and beverage trends and new product innovations, with a slew of companies launching additional flavors and formulations during the five-day event.
“Every year at Expo West we foster the connection between emerging brands who are impacting the landscape and industry pioneers who have paved the way for decades. This event highlights the importance of community engagement and the role everyone plays to create a more sustainable packaged goods industry,” said Lacey Gautier, VP of Events and former Group Show Director at New Hope Network.
60,000 expected visitors
For CPG brands in the natural and plant-based space, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better show in terms of sheer numbers. After canceling the 2020 and 2021 events due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the show returned last year with 2,700 exhibitors and over 57,000 registered attendees, compared to 3,600 booths and 86,000 visitors in 2019. This year, the official Expo website lists 3,187 exhibiting booths and as per a BEVNet social media post, 60,000 expected participants are expected to visit, the bulk of which are product buyers.
Booths don’t come cheap. According to reporting by Forbes last year, booths usually start at around $15,000 (though there are more budget-friendly options for very early-stage companies), and if you factor in travel, booth design, samples and other related costs, companies can end up spending close to $100,000.
Over 100+ alternative proteins making an appearance
While Expo West does include animal products and is not exclusively vegan, alternative protein and plant-based brands are highly visible on the show floor.
According to the non-profit The Good Food Institute, a global think tank for the industry working to make alternative proteins affordable and accessible, there are over 100 alternative protein companies exhibiting at the show this year, approximately 3.2%. In their dedicated event guide, the authors write that the list was “created by compiling all exhibitors tags related to alternative proteins and cross-referencing with GFI’s alternative protein company database to filter for companies creating products that contain direct replacements for animal products (meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy)”. Further, they specify that brands and “companies focused on inherently plant-based foods, such as chickpeas and kale” were not included in the list.
Of the 100+, the vast majority were companies with products derived from plant-based technology. We noted 6 companies in the list marked in the fermentation category, and of those, only two use precision fermentation, including The Urgent Company (better known as animal-free dairy leaders Perfect Day) and Tomorrow Farms, a company that makes milk using Perfect Day’s cow-free whey protein. There will be no cultivated meat startups at Expo West, unless you count Eat Just, which will be showcasing its plant-based JUST Egg products, as the company owns cultivated chicken maker GOOD Meat.
25% of the booths have vegan products
The Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA), a U.S.-based trade association that represents over 350 North American plant-based food companies published a list of their own featuring 76 of their members (2.5% of the show booths).
Based on Green Queen‘s own analysis, 333 exhibitors describe themselves as plant-based, or 10.5% of the total. Note: Not all plant-based food companies are PBFA members. 785 exhibitors identify as vegan (25%), while only 71 use the term vegetarian (2.2%).
Further, 29 booths (just under 1%) say they have products grown using regenerative agriculture, a term that has been gaining ground in recent years, compared to 268 marked as certified organic (8.4%). 237 exhibitors feature gluten-free products (7%).
Future food tastings galore
A bevy of future of food brands will be hosting tastings at the show including plant-based chicken company TiNDLE who will sample their just-debuted retail range and newly acquired plant-based gelato brand Mwah!; Nestle-owned SweetEarth will spotlight new recipes; Planet Based Foods, who are looking to debut both their plant-based taquito line and their hemp-based ice creams; Upton’s Naturals, who will feature their seitan products; Daiya Foods will give their new chicken frozen pizza and flatbread SKUs a whirl; Voyage Foods will be debuting a a vegan, cocoa-free and nut-free alternative to Nutella; and OMNI Foods will present new packaging as well as just-launched crystal dumplings and Asian flavoured bao buns.
Beyond the trade show, Expo West hosts a content-heavy conference of talks and fireside chats. One highlight of the programme? Miyoko Schinner, founder and former CEO of Miyoko’s Creamery, who is facing a lawsuit from the company she started, will be making an appearance in a panel titled ‘Navigating Challenges Women Face in Leadership Roles in Natural Foods’, in what promises to be a packed room.
A make or break show
It’s been a challenging few months for consumer-facing brands with rising inflation, high energy costs, continued supply chain disruptions and a decrease in VC funding. Plant-based companies in the US have faced especially bumpy skies. Expo West could be make-or-break. As one Forbes editor writes, Expo West could be make-or-break: “The over-correction — to much-hyped valuations, sky-high deal multiples and overzealous investors — is here, and the tension will be on full display next week at the Super Bowl for the food industry, better known as #ExpoWest. In a matter of months, the market stepped back from over-valuing food startups and started demanding more, like profitability and stronger metrics. These dynamics are making it tough for hundreds of brands that have run out of cash, and now they’re in the awkward position of needing to ask for more—from the same investors who are far more risk-averse and are trying to make up for bad past deals.”