Expo West, one of the world’s largest annual conventions for alternative protein startups and investors was held in Anaheim, California in March. This year the event boasted more than 65,000 attendees and 3,000 exhibiting companies from all around the world – including nearly 900 newcomers.
The event saw a number of new product launches, ingredient innovations and sampling of the latest in plant-based. Several key themes were apparent at this event, speaking to the trends evolving in the growing alternative protein category.
Two of the most abundant sub-categories present at this year’s convention were alternative seafood products and functional foods.
Plant-based seafood has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years and this conference revealed an abundance of R&D that has been invested into making these items. Many startups debuted new ways of preparing and serving alternative products, and options for longer-lasting and more convenient ways to enjoy these. Products debuted included canned options, seafood jerky, and shelf-stable items.
Reflecting the rising consumer interest in healthy options that offer more than the typical benefits of nutritional foods, many startups showcased their lines of functional items. These products typically feature nootropics or similar ingredients, that can aid consumers in focusing, sleeping better, or reducing feelings of anxiety. Several formulations showcased this year incorporated L-theanine, an amino acid found commonly in green tea.
On the topic of ingredient innovation, mushrooms played a major role at this year’s Expo West convention. From whole muscle type items including steaks, and cutlets to dried and seasoned products like jerky, the variety of mushroom-based options at the event was vast.
Producers touted the range of benefits mushrooms can offer, including being a healthy option for consumers and a sustainable ingredient with low environmental strain. Further, many mushrooms offer adaptogenic properties which can be used to lower stress or increase focus – contributing to the functionality of these dishes.
Beyond these trends, there was a prominent theme of global flavours with several startups exhibiting a strong Asian influence in their products – including Japanese miso barbecue sauce, Filipino banana ketchup and Indian street food-inspired dips.
An apparent growing emphasis on foods created for children, including functional items and nutritious plant-based snack offerings was also present at this year’s convention with many seeing the sub-category as having huge growth potential in the coming years.