BALTIMORE — At Natural Products Expo East, participants tasted mozzarella made from sprouted brown rice, milk made from oats, ice cream made from bananas, and tuna made from beans. Plant-based was a prominent theme in product development as well as the subject of a panel presentation at the annual event, held Sept. 13-16 in Baltimore.

Barbara Shpizner, vice-president, innovation manager at Mattson

“The quality of plant-based products is far superior than it was even a couple of years ago,” said Barbara Shpizner, vice-president, innovation manager at Mattson, a Foster City, Calif.-based food and beverage innovation firm. “The supply chain is increasingly improving. We have more tools in our toolbox.”

By 2020, global sales of plant-based dairy and meat alternatives are forecast to reach $19.5 billion and $5 billion, respectively, said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association, San Francisco.

Michele Simon
Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association

“Big food companies are taking notice of the success of this industry,” she said, pointing to several acquisitions announced in the past year, including recent deals by Nestle and Dean Foods.

Driven by health, environmental and animal welfare concerns, more than a third of Americans buy plant-based meat alternatives, and just over a quarter of consumers said they ate less animal meat in the past year, Ms. Simon said.

In the past year, plant-based meat and dairy alternatives in the United States grew 8.1%, topping $3.1 billion in sales, according to Nielsen data commissioned by the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute. During the period, milk alternatives grew 3.1%, while sales of cow’s milk declined 5%. Dairy alternatives excluding milk grew 20%, with plant-based yogurt up 56%, plant-based ice cream up 26% and cheese alternatives rising 19%. Refrigerated plant-based meat sales increased 23%, and sales of plant-based meals grew 18%.


Minh Tsai, founder of Oakland, Calif.-based Hodo Soy, said he has seen tremendous growth in plant-based foods over the past five years. His business began with one farmers’ market in 2004 and has expanded to serve more than 2,500 restaurants, including Chipotle Mexican Grill, plus branded products in 1,500 retail outlets.

“What I tried to do a decade ago, I now call ‘disrupt,’ but at the time I was just trying to make a better tasting tofu,” he said during the presentation. “We want our tofu to be a gateway for people who are moving into vegetarianism or veganism… Tofu is one of the most versatile plant-based foods. What was lacking in the beginning was the fact it didn’t taste good.”

Since soy’s early days as a vegetarian staple, a broad range of plant-based protein sources has emerged, Ms. Shpizner said.

Chipotle sofritas
Hodo Soy serves more than 2,500 restaurants, including Chipotle Mexican Grill.

“Pea is the celebrity protein,” she said. “It’s easier to formulate with, but it’s not a complete protein so you do need to blend it, but it’s much easier to work with than some of the other proteins.”

She added, “There are a lot of good proteins out there. Europe has been deeply emerged in lupin for many years. We haven’t done much, so that may be something on the horizon.

“What we’re going to see in the near future is just an improved supply chain, and I think we’re going to see different combinations and blends of proteins.”

Click for a slideshow of plant-based innovation at Expo East.