Home » Northeast Plant-Based Offerings Can Become ‘A Way Of Life Really Fast’

Northeast Plant-Based Offerings Can Become ‘A Way Of Life Really Fast’

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by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer

Ben Davis had a goal. He wanted to expand the marketplace and bring the plant-based industry together to share brands, products and education. For him and the many others committing to plant-based diets, it’s a movement.

“Eating plant-based gives people a lot of power in their own daily choices,” said Davis, founder of Plant Based World, which started an annual conference for the industry. “Three times a day, we choose what to put on our plates and what to put in our mouths, and sometimes it’s really hard to feel like we have any power over the things going on in the world, whether it’s the climate changing or the injustices or the fear of disease.

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“It becomes a way of life really fast. That’s why I think it’s more than kind of a trend or a diet fad, and more of a real shift in the way that people are seeing their ability to impact the world, through their own choices with food.”

Plant Based World launched in 2019, holding its first conference and expo.

“The timing ended up being really exciting – unplanned because the Beyond Meat ITO and the Impossible Whopper hit the mainstream in May [2019] for our June trade show in New York City, and so everything just kind of took off,” said Davis, who also serves as the organization’s content and communications director.

The turnout exceeded his expectations, with 150 exhibitors and nearly 4,000 attendees. As of March, this year’s show was on pace to double in size. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic scrapped the event.

“I had been a three-meal-a-day meat eater my entire life,” Davis said. “Back in 2016, I made the switch to a plant-based diet for really all the reasons that one does so – ethics and animal issues, environment, my own health and the way it made me feel.

“To give some context to what the industry was going through at that time, I found the Beyond Burgers, the very first iteration of them, at Whole Foods. I kind of just randomly stumbled upon them…it wasn’t for another couple years really until, all of a sudden, the mainstream media was talking about it.”

Christine Luongo, senior brand manager for New Jersey-based Veggies Made Great, said the company focuses on a sustainable future with the help of vegetables as its No. 1 ingredient.

“We have found a real success in the fact that we know that fad diets have come and gone,” she said. “They’ve been low-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, Keto, Paleo, but there’s sort of one health method that’s never changed over time, and that’s eat your vegetables.”plant-based

Veggies Made Great has been around for about 10 years, using a variety of vegetables – from spinach and broccoli to kale, carrots and cauliflower – to make products such as veggie bakes, sweet muffins, savory muffins and frittatas.

“We’ve been a player in this space for a while,” Luongo said. “So we believe that today’s shopper is very well-educated and informed when it comes to making decisions for themselves and their families.

“We continue to encourage people to eat more vegetables for a sustainable lifestyle.” 

Michael Tierney is the founder of Mikey’s, which makes gluten-free and dairy-free handheld meals and snacks.

“I think that everyone’s kind of woken up a bit to not only the personal health aspects of it, but the macroenvironmental aspects of going plant-based, either full time or occasionally,” he said.

Mikey’s came about organically. Driven by his love of food, Tierney had started working in restaurants at age 12. After attending the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, he worked in some high-end, three-Michelin star restaurants before deciding to do something new in the food realm.

“I started doing a lot of catering for families that didn’t want to cook dinner every night but wanted to feed their families some fresh, nutritious meals,” he said. “And so that led me to a relationship with a local grocery health food store [Get Healthy America], a small store based in Long Island.

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Mike Tierney

“I partnered up with this store and just started innovating items based on what their consumer needs were. And this is one of those very crunchy, forward-looking food stores that’s like 20 years ahead of Walmart…[it was] kind of on the pulse of what people were looking for.”

When Mikey’s launched in 2014, the gluten-free diet was trending, with Paleo also gaining traction.

“For me, the whole preface to this was gluten-free wasn’t good enough,” Tierney said. “There are so many brands out there that are gluten-free, but that’s all they are. And if you look past just those two words, they’re packed with the same crummy ingredients, the same high carbohydrates, the same issues.”

So the company debuted English muffins made from eight ingredients that were low-calorie, low-carb, high-protein, gluten, grain, soy and dairy-free.

“We saw a lot of people making little pizzas on our English muffins, so I made a pizza crust…then plant-based starting getting bigger and bigger,” Tierney said. “And I’d always had a focus on functional food, limited ingredients and providing a multi-attributed product.

plant-based“When we looked at tortillas, I really wanted to do something that’s plant-based, and so that was our first plant-based item – a cassava-based tortilla.”

Mikey’s commitment to providing better-for-you foods along with the growing consumer interest drove the company to create plant-based products.

“We’ve seen a lot of data around how plant-based improves your health, improves your gut, improves your immune system, reduces inflammation in your body – and that’s part of the goal of what we’re doing.

“As we continue our innovation pipeline, we’re launching four new [veg-based] tortilla varieties later this year…as well as two vegan pockets that we’re really excited about.”

Good Catch Foods – a Gathered Foods company – also plans some new products this year. It is introducing plant-based frozen fish, with a fish burger, crab cake and Thai fish cake coming to stores on the East Coast in July.

Chad Sarno and his brother, Derek, are the founding chefs of Good Catch and the bloggers of Wicked Healthy, guiding readers to a healthier, plant-based lifestyle. And according to Chad Sarno, about 40 percent of shoppers in the U.S. are looking for plant-based alternatives, which he termed “very exciting.”

“If we’re looking at seafood in general, we consume 200-300 different types of seafood globally, and we also consume around 30 types of land animals,” Sarno said. “So the opportunity for innovation within seafood is huge, and that’s what was most attractive to us.

plant-based“And then also, from an environmental impact perspective, factory fisheries are some of the most destructive globally when it comes to the loopholes that they have in international water.

“We wanted to disrupt what people are used to in general for sources of protein from the ocean. And the reason that we still call it seafood is we have algae and seaweed in there that really bumps the nutrition profile of our product, which is matched up pretty fairly with the nutrition profile of tuna.”

The Common Bond Market, an all-natural grocer in Shelton, Connecticut, serves allergen-friendly as well as plant-based products. Mollie Detmers, the store’s general manager, acknowledged that plant-based products have become more popular.

“It’s just kind of exploded, even since this coronavirus thing hit,” she said. “We’ve been selling so many more plant-based meats since then. I mean all plant-based products, but the meats in particular have just exploded.”

Detmers said they were trying a new merchandising strategy for meat alternatives, per the request of several plant-based companies.

“We’ve been hearing that they’ve been wanting their items merchandised near the regular meat, and so we’ve been doing that lately, and we’ve seen a huge increase in the amount of plant-based meats that we’ve been selling,” she said.

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