After a two-year hiatus, the doors opened last week to 2,700 exhibitors and 57,000 of its most avid fans. A small Haberman team –Sunny Fenton Brian Wachtler Nathan Kelly Rice Maggie Pendleton – headed to California to support our 10+ clients attending, check out new products, and eat the world. Our joys were many – ranging from meeting Jennifer Garner, Once Upon a Farm, to trying some perfected plant-based meat, to luxuriating in the community hugs, we did it all.
Here are five things we loved:
(1) High energy, good vibes. It was clear that Expo was back in a big way. Great energy, engaging conversations, and mighty hugs. So many hugs. Meetings seemed to be happening in every corner of Anaheim, and the Hilton common area was buzzing.
(2) Adding benefits, bringing plus ups. A growing trend the past five or so years, the exhibit halls were filled with products that promise an extra benefit: collagen (looking at you Pop & Bottle), caffeine, gut health (hi, Sunwink), and welcomed partnerships – saluting you TABASCO® in our #heirloom Pipsnacks LLC, were among the most popular.
(3) Products finally reflecting our rich, diverse population. It’s exciting to see the natural food movement expanding with brands and founders introducing new flavors and cultural perspectives on food. Some of the best bites we had were from TANKA, whose prairie-fed buffalo-based products are sustainably produced by Oglala Lakotas of South Dakota and winner of the annual Pitch Slam Competition (excellent presentation – Phillip Gaudon), and A Dozen Cousins, clean label packaged meals (pollo asado, creole red beans) inspired by the Creole, the Caribbean, and Latin American cooking founder Ibraheem Basir grew up eating.
(4) Texture Wins. Where vegan and plant-based eaters may have previously overlooked texture in favor of flavor, product innovation has made both attributes possible—and expected. Particularly within plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, we continue to see missing puzzle pieces of texture fall into place and become an expectation. Big congrats to Plantspired, who blew our minds with their plant-based steak. And to our client, Daiya Foods, with new Grilling and Cheeze Blocks, which VegNews selected for their Best in Show Award.
(5) Joy & Curiosity. Tabitha Brown, plant-based expert and icon, and keynote speaker at Expo West, simplified a shift we’ve all been feeling: the rebrand of plant-based eating from necessity and health—to joy and curiosity. With more options and better choices than ever, this category is clearly no longer just for those who need it, but those who want it, who are curious about it, who derive joy from it. The growing flexitarian population is to thank for this, and it’s easy to see the edge of a new era where this way of eating is so normalized that these labels and aisles are no longer needed.
Our feet still hurt, but our hearts and stomachs are full!