Tag Archives: Gardein

Veggie Grill can listen, but apparently they can’t speak

21 Mar

Hey, where'd the "mindful living" menus go?

Hey, where’d the “mindful living” menus go?

It’s been ten days now since my post asking,”Is Veggie Grill’s gardein organic, like Veggie Grill claims it is, or is it not?” and a lot has happened so I figured I’d update you.

The main thing that happened is that immediately after I published my post, Veggie Grill finally removed the claim on its website that “All of our veggie proteins and tempeh are organic and non-GMO.” And this past weekend, more than six weeks after I first brought the matter to Veggie Grill’s attention, all stores were told to pull all copies of the menu containing that claim, according to a manager I spoke to at one of their locations.

And yet despite these actions, there hasn’t been a single word from Veggie Grill about any of this. Given that they deleted the language from their website that I challenged, and ordered their store managers to remove all those menus, obviously they realized I was right. These actions seem to be a pretty clear admission that they had misled thousands of customers about the organic nature of their product.

But did Veggie Grill make any kind of public admission? Did they apologize for challenging me initially on this? More important, did they apologize to their customers about this? No, not a word.

But they weren’t *entirely* without response. They did favorite a mysterious tweet that attacked me. A tweet from @vegan, the same person who owns vegan.com, a person whom I can’t remember ever having a conversation with before, and who doesn’t even follow me on Twitter, and who out of nowhere tweeted one morning:

favorited tweet

And Veggie Grill favorited that tweet, a tweet from someone with 54,000 followers, a tweet that occurred not long after my blog post went up. And not only that, Veggie Grill later retweeted a tweet from, yup, that same person:

2nd tweet

I don’t know what the connection is between @vegan and VeggieGrill, but Veggie Grill sure must have appreciated the support because since then they’ve retweeted a number of random tweets from @vegan to their 74,000 followers, even though I went back months prior to my post and didn’t see a single retweet of @vegan by VeggieGrill. I guess one hand washes the other and all.

And that favorite of the attack on me, and the retweet above, have been the entirety of Veggie Grill’s response. Unbelievable, I know, and it’s both pathetic and shocking at the same time. Up until this, I thought Veggie Grill was a well-run company. I thought they had what it takes to grow the company. I thought the leadership was in place to actually turn this into a vegan giant that could divert people from meaty fast food all across America. But now my confidence in them is shattered.

It turns out that it’s amateur hour over there at Veggie Grill, which makes me sad. Any well-run company would have apologized to their customers, issued some type of statement about the matter, tried to make right with those who were misled, and begun to move on. But not Veggie Grill. Instead they have shown disdain for their customers, which is awful, considering how loyal their customers can be.

So loyal that many have attacked me on various social media platforms, and not just @vegan. The general opinion of the attackers seems to be: This is a vegan company spreading veganism so if the thing they’ve been misleading people about doesn’t pertain to the vegan nature of their products it’s okay. Then there have been some people on the other side who have basically said: If they misled customers about the organic nature of their products, what else might they be misleading people about?

Personally, I trust that they are indeed 100 percent vegan and committed to that. And I should add that I have never questioned their non-GMO claims, nor their claims that their tempeh, which is not from gardein, is organic.

But it’s important to note that Veggie Grill still has not addressed the claim on their regular menu, which is still online and in stores, that “Our specially seasoned and marinated proteins, Chickin’ and Veggie-Steak, are made from organic and non-GMO soybeans, wheat and peas. Produced by GARDEIN™, these hearty proteins are deliciously satisfying, easily digested and packed with nutrients and fiber.” This despite the fact that Veggie Grill’s own list of ingredients for these gardein items on Veggie Grill’s own website shows only the beet root fiber and the evaporated cane juice as being organic. On their own website! And Veggie Grill has been claiming on menus for at least two years that the wheat and soy in their gardein products are organic, even though the ingredients list that’s still up on their website today says otherwise!

Where are the answers from Veggie Grill? Is anyone in charge there? Is this what they think of their customers?

Oh, and I almost forgot that they also unfollowed me on Twitter. That’s the way the adults there decided to deal with this issue: they covered their eyes.

Natural Products ExpWHOA! (aka: Why I’m now even fatter than this blogpost)

15 Mar

Expo

I did it. I went!

And if you follow me on Instagram (which you can do by clicking my new awesome badge up there to your right, yeah, the blue one, click it) then you know that I saw a ton of new vegan products and ate two tons since I ate at least two of everything I saw.

Last year, when I first got to know Special Needs Eater, she had just returned from a trip to the Expo in her capacity as writer extraordinaire for SuperVegan. And I got to listen to her Wonkavilian description of a wonderland of vegan foods, many never before seen by human eyes!

Back then, I could hardly imagine that a humble vegan blogger (me) who had barely been vegan blogging for three months (me again) would one day roam the halls of a place (more like palace) that I have to tell you makes vegan dreams disappointing by making vegan reality superior.

But that is how far your insufferable servant has come! Because this year I accompanied SNE to the NPE and I’ve got the photos to prove it! So without further ado (to yeu and yeu and yeu) here’s my roundup of Paper Spoon Expo West 2013! I mean, Natural Products Expo West 2013!

DAY ONE!

Okay, here’s what I saw on day one keeping in mind that my day one was day two and my day two was day three. Oday? Great!

When Follow Your Heart says "mini sandwich" they don't kid around! I'm still looking for the sun-dried tomato.

When Follow Your Heart says “mini sandwich” they don’t kid around! I’m still looking for the sun-dried tomato.

The first exciting booth I saw was Follow Your Heart. We all know them, the creators of the most often misspelled product in the world: Vegenaise! And look, they were debuting a new roasted garlic flavor. I tried it, I liked it, I moved on.

Congressman/Mayor/Councilman/Presidential candidate Dennis Vegan Kucinich!!! (Most people are not this happy to see me.)

Congressman/Mayor/Councilman/Presidential candidate Dennis Vegan Kucinich!!! (Most people are not this happy to see me.)

And while moving on, I saw my first vegan celeb of the Expo, Dennis Kucinich, a man who very well might have been the first vegan president of the United States if way more people had voted for him and if you don’t count the first “almost vegan” ex-president of the United States, William Veganson Clinton.

Amy's got ice cream!

Amy’s got ice cream!

The next stop of note was the Amy’s booth. Amy’s keeps growing and they had a big ol’ booth. Now I’m not much for frozen food so I almost walked right past — until I noticed an ice cram cart! That’s right, Amy’s is getting into the ice cream business! I was skeptical, but their mint chocolate chip was good! It arrives in July.

No furkin' way! Pot Pie AND Quiche? Yes, it's true!

No furkin’ way! Pot Pie AND Quiche? Yes, it’s true!

The next stop is a big one so get ready: Tofurky! Well, I’m excited to report that the Tofolks at Tofurky have been Tofurking ’round the Furk to bring you a huge array of new items. They’ve got a Pot Pie and a Quiche, and they’ve also got some Pockets, which I’m disappointed they didn’t call Tofockets. All are due this summer.

Is that some tofu in your pocket or are you just glad to oh never mind.

Is that some tofu in your pocket or are you just glad to oh never mind.

Not only that, they’re going after Field Roast with a gourmet line of sausages! I also stopped by the Field Roast booth but I didn’t take any photos. Why? Because they didn’t have a single new product and not only that, some honcho I talked to wouldn’t even give me a hint of what’s coming down the pipeline. All he would say is, “Have you tried our frankfurters?” Dude, those have been out for like 40 years in vegan time. Get off your hammock and Tofurk!

UPDATE! So even though the honcho wouldn’t tell me about any new products, it turns out he gave a party the night before to debut his new Field Roast burgers! That’s him in the middle in the photo below. Did he really think he could keep his new burgers secret in an era of cellphone cameras and social media? Did he really think it was a good idea to tell some vegan bloggers about them but mislead others? What a gigantic doofus! No wonder I’m seeing less and less of his products at Whole Foods! And by the way, those frankfurters he asked me if I tried? They’re awful, with a nasty aftertaste.

That guy in the middle needs some lessons in how to run a business, not to mention a remedial class in social media. What a buffoon!

That guy in the middle needs some lessons in how to run a business, not to mention a remedial class in social media. What a buffoon!

I wonder if these new Tofurky artisan sausages, which they told me are coming to stores as early as April, will put Field Roast out of business since they’re way better than what Field Roast has been selling.

New Artisan Sausages from Tofurky. I didn't put quotes around the word Artisan but we all know they're there, k? Three flavors: Chick'n & Apple, Andouille Cajun Style, and Spinach Pesto.

New Artisan Sausages from Tofurky. I didn’t put quotes around the word Artisan but we all know they’re there, k? Three flavors: Chick’n & Apple, Andouille Cajun Style, and Spinach Pesto.

I was so overwhelmed by all the Tofurkkovation that I almost walked past a small booth but boy am I glad I didn’t, because this small product I’d never heard of, NutBurgers, was one of the best things I ate at the Expo. Like I said I’m not a big fan of frozen food, but I will definitely buy some of these the first time I see em.  Oh, and I did not post this photo on my Instagram because Special Needs Eater taught me a lesson which is that you can’t tip everything on your Instagram because then no one will check out your blog post. Speaking of which, be sure to check out Special Needs Eater’s very own Expo roundup blog post on SuperVegan.

I think this was a sample size because the box says each patty contains 290 calories and this looks like 288 tops.

I think this was a sample size because the box says each patty contains 290 calories and this looks like 288 tops.

But the Expo isn’t all NutBurgers and roses. Nope, there’s a few disasters too. And the biggest debacle of the Expo was the Lightlife booth. I didn’t even make the word Lightlife clickable because I’m not in the mood to support them at all. And I’m not going to bother wasting time on it here, since they’ve already apologized to me, but if you want to know what happened then you can read the world’s largest Instagram caption to find out.

And Lightlife wasn’t the only debacle. The Blue Diamond almonds booth was another fiasco. They were giving out samples of some new crackers and I asked if they were vegan. The woman said, “Yes, they are.” So I tried some. Then when I got home, I did some more research before including them here, because I always double check to make sure I’m not recommending something that’s not vegan, and it turned out they have butter in them! I mean seriously, it’s the Natural Products Expo and you’ve got people working there who either don’t know what “vegan” means or haven’t been trained about the products they’re promoting? Pathetic!

But back to fun. And one of the fun things about the Expo is seeing the weird products that people come up with. There was a breakfast cereal named Holy Crap. I’m not kidding. You can click that link and you’ll see it really exists. And they asked me to try it. And I would not. Nor would I have tried a breakfast cereal named Raw Sewage. Sorry, just can’t do it. But I did try something called Guacamame, which is guacamole made from mommies! Okay, it’s late, sorry. It’s guacamole from edamame, and their big selling point is that it doesn’t oxidize, which I thought was another word for rust, so I guess avocado rusts? I’m not saying it beats guacamole but guacamame is guacatasty.

My prediction is that the next dance crazy to sweep the country after the Harelm Shuffle will be the Guacamame!

My prediction is that the next dance craze to sweep the country after the Harlem Shuffle will be the Guacamame!

Another fun thing about the Expo is getting to voice your complaints to the top honchos of the companies that drive you crazy with the idiotic ways they handle their products. For example, the Boca sales rep was completely unaware that the chik’n nuggets they had on display have been completely unavailable in Southern California for months. “What makes you think they’re not available?” I was asked. To which I replied, “Because I’ve tried multiple stores of multiple supermarket chains and have had multiple conversations with multiple grocery managers who tell me they’ve been trying to get the product back on their shelves for months.” “Oh. I’ll look into it. Thanks for telling me!”

Next stop was the Earth Balance booth. Earth Balance recently introduced four new vegan products for your supermarket’s snack aisle: cheddar flavor puffs, buttery flavor popcorn, cheddar flavor popcorn, and P.B. Popps, which is some kind of Cracker Jacky peanut butter coated popcorn thing. I found the puffs and the cheddar popcorn at the Whole Foods near me a few weeks ago, and tried them both. I liked the puffs and ate the bag right away. I didn’t love the cheddar popcorn. And I was unable to find the other two anywhere in LA. So I was psyched to get to try them at the Expo.

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The buttery popcorn was only okay. But the P.B. Popps were crazy good! In fact, the only thing that would keep me from eating an entire bag at once is the scary lady on their webpage who’s gonna hit me with her wooden spoon if I overdo it.

I suggest you hop on these popps.

I suggest you hop on these popps.

Oh, and I figured out why the company is called Earth Balance — because it’s a balance of the joy of the Popps and the sadness of this little white bread sandwich they were serving to demonstrate their mayo:

Check out the name of this product. That is some in-the-moment mayo!

Check out the name of this product. That is some in-the-moment mayo!

After Earth Balance we hit the Go Veggie! booth, where I met their Glaswegian food master who claimed to have “a Ph.D in tofu”! Go Veggie!, for! those! not! in! the! know!, used to be called Galaxy. So now they’ve rebranded themselves and created a line of vegan cheeses that they’re marketing to people (vegans) who *never* refer to themselves as veggies. In fact, to tell a vegan to “Go Veggie!” is like telling us to go backwards. It’s even a different sound. Vegetarians get the “juh” sound and we get Hard G. Anyway, despite their misnamed company, the Go Veggie! people are all very nice. And they had the Spork Sisters there serving a delicious strawberry cream cheese mousse that was made with Go Veggie!’s strawberry vegan cream cheese. Hmm, I wonder if that Ph.D got his degree from Veggie U., because then I could understand the rah-rah name Go Veggie! But if that wasn’t the case, then Go Figure!

Sporkberry Mousse

Sporkberry Mousse

And do you know who else was at the Expo? The Justin’s peanut butter people, though I did not see Justin himself. Maybe he was stuck to the roof of the Expo! Hahahahahahaohsorry. I think all vegans know Justin’s. Justin’s sells a dark peanut butter cup that is crazy good. PROVIDED YOU EAT IT REAL FAST. That’s right — one time I bought a whole box of these and after about two weeks the remaining ones went bad. I guess that actually speaks well of the product — it’s not preserved up the wazoo (which was my favorite Edward Albee play) but trust me you don’t want to eat a faded brown decomposing peanut butter cup. I say this as a cautionary tale because Justin’s — which since releasing the dark chocolate peanut butter cup has released about three hundred delicious looking candies THAT ALL CONTAIN MILK — has finally gone back and done something for us vegans, by introducing a big ol’ bag of their DPBCs so we don’t have to keep buying them two at a time. (Or buying a box of two-at-a-times which costs the same as 2 multiplied by however many packs are in the box.) Now I didn’t ask how much of a discount the big bag will provide, but I hope it’s substantial. And I also hope they find another way to market these in March besides Halloween, because the only thing scary about these peanut butter cups is what my LDL is going to be after eating a whole bag.

Happy Halloween! Uhh... it's March.

Happy Halloween! Uhh… it’s March.

So by now you can only imagine how full I was, and the 6 p.m. closing time was approaching so it was probably time to just call it a day and OH MY GOD IT’S THE GARDEIN BOOTH!!! Okay, to be honest, that only goes a little way toward explaining my excitement upon seeing what @SpecialNeedsy called the Gardein of Eden. And it’s kind of interesting because, between you and me, their products aren’t that good. Hey, hold on, wait, hear me out. I love Gardein! It’s just not that good. I love their hamburger sliders. I eat them a lot. Even though they taste highly processed. And kinda don’t sit well. But that doesn’t stop me. Ditto my trips to Veggie Grill which is Gardein that someone else cooks for you! And I think my love for Gardein is rooted in its fast food replacementology. Because there was always something I liked about McDonald’s. And it wasn’t the food. Okay, it’s the food until you get to a certain age, maybe in your mid to late 20′s, when McDonald’s goes from tasty food to pore-extruded greasy film forcefield. But I still kept going back to McDonald’s, despite how ill it would make me feel, because I’d been brainwashed into seeing it as part of my happy childhood. But one of the things that veganism saved me from, besides myself obviously, was the end result of that apparent need to re-experience my perceived happy childhood. With Gardein, I get to re-live the vegan childhood that I never had! Oh wait, time’s up for this session? Let me quickly add that they debuted a crazy amount of new products, and allowed me to taste a few.

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I really liked the new Crispy Chick’n Sliders. Of course the ones in the box won’t come with lettuce, tomato and sauce like these ones did, and I doubt they’ll be crispy when I microwave them which is the way all sliders are meant to be slid, but even taking all that into conslideration, they were really good!

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I also tried the new Sizzling Szechuan Beefless Strips — which weren’t so much sizzling as sitting in a cold plastic sample cup — but they still tasted like they could be tasty.

And they also have a Teriyaki Beefless Jerky they’re coming out with, but since jerky might be the single most disgusting food product I can think of — and doubly-disgusting if you buy it at a 7-Eleven — I see no need for a vegan version. But if you like it, this is what the package looks like:

It's beefless AND meat-free!

It’s beefless AND meat-free!

Okay, seriously, Gardein introduced so many new items that it was getting silly already:

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I could keep posting photos of new Gardein products but instead I’m going to just give you a photo of all of it, courtesy of SuperVegan/SpecialNeedsEater who was smart enough to take a shot of the whole shebang:

Gardein of Eatin' -- as captioned and photographed by SuperVegan/SpecialNeedsEater

Gardein of Eatin’ — as captioned and photographed by SuperVegan/SpecialNeedsEater

And even though we were full from the Gardein booth, we forged on, and managed to make one more stop before wrapping up DAY ONE. Last but not least, the nice folks at Vege USA have two new vegan items from their Vegetarian Plus line headed your way. And I tried ‘em both and liked ‘em both.

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DAY TWO!

Day two was, for all intents and purposes, Ice Cream Day! First up was DF Mavens, from New York. Now before I tell you how good this was, I want to tell you there’s someone running around online trying to start a controversy about it. Apparently, their first run of containers listed honey as an ingredient, even though the company says there was never honey in the product. But instead of trashing the mislabelled containers and eating the cost of a reprint, they did something stupid and used these containers. Not a great way to make a first impression. However, they say the problem is behind them and swear there never was honey in there. I have no way of knowing if the person devoting a lot of time to kvetching about this online is a competitor or just someone with too much time on their hands, but I do have a way of knowing if their ice cream is good or not, because I put some into my body, and it was good indeed.

DF Mavens New Orleans Sweet Praline Vegan Ice Cream

DF Mavens New Orleans Sweet Praline Vegan Ice Cream

Next up was Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine. Maggie is from North Carolina but has more attitude than entire boroughs of New York. She seemed skeptical about giving me a taste of her food. But I skepticaled her right back and she caved. Maggie had three flavors she was sampling and one of them was really good. Her website calls it “Lentils with Curry & Lime” but I know she worked the word “Thai” into her description when she was telling me about it. Either way, it was good. And Maggie is quick to tell you it comes in microwavable BPA-free jars. One thing Maggie wasn’t quick to tell me was that she’s also got a Vegetable Korma flavor which she wasn’t sampling. Well that sucks because I used to love Vegetable Korma pre-vegan and haven’t found a single one since. Also, I’ll give Maggie the benefit of the doubt that she really means “conscious” not “conscientious” since I did kind of feel the lentils were looking at me (though not with as much attitude as Maggie).

Maggie's Conscious Vegan Cuisine. I heard that later in the afternoon, some of the cuisine hit its head and was rendered unconscious but I can not confirm that report.

Maggie’s Conscious Vegan Cuisine. I heard that later in the afternoon, some of the cuisine hit its head and was rendered unconscious, but I can not confirm that report.

The next stop  was hard to believe, even though SpecialNeedsEater had tried to prepare me for it: The Daiya Booth! Daiya’s space at the Expo was Mothership-sized, with what seemed like hundreds of nattily attired minions scurrying to and fro dishing out samples of brand new sliced cheeses, cream cheeses, and, are you ready, pizzas! While I stood stunned like a Daiya in the headlights, SpecialNeedsy was alert enough to snap a photo of the entire Daiya Displaiya:

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Behold the Daiya Displaiya, photo courtesy of specialneedseater.com

Being your humble vegan servant, I tried to sample as many of the new Daiyaties as I could. I had some Chive & Onion Cream Cheese Style Spread on a bagel, which was good, some Margherita Pizza, some Daiya Cheeze Lover’s Pizza, and some Mushroom & Roasted Garlic Pizza, all of which were good especially the mushroom and garlic one which was great. However, I am sorry to say that I cannot be so positive about the new Swiss cheese singles, nor the Provolone. These tasted nothing like Swiss or Provolone, and I mean not even a tiny amount. They were both pretty flavorless, with a chalky, powdery texture. No wonder they were serving them only in sandwiches, with bread and lettuce to hide the nastiness (though when I asked for a piece of each of them plain, they obliged me). I really have no idea why Daiya decided to release these when they’re clearly not good enough yet but oh well, at least the pizzas are killer. The pizzas, by the way, are coming in August, while the cream cheeses and new Swiss, Provolone, and Cheddar slices all arrive in April.

Coming in August

Coming in August

Coming in April

Coming in April

Coming in April

Coming in April

I know what you’re thinking: What happened to Ice Cream Day?!  Well settle down, because my next stop was Mr. Dewie’s! Mr Dewie’s is an almond milk ice cream from Oakland that is dewielicious. I think their mint chip was my favorite ice cream of the entire Expo and that’s saying something because there was lots and lots of ice cream. And let me just say that not only was the ice cream good, but Mr. Dewie’s proprietors, Ari and Andrew Cohen, might have been the nicest, most personable exhibitors at the Expo, right up there in a tie with the Chicago Vegan Foods folks. Plus, I discovered the top secret reason why the product is called Mr. Dewie’s. I’m not allowed to divulge my source, so let’s just say a little twitter birdie told me.

Ari Cohen, who with his brother Andrew just might one day be more famous than the Coen No H Brothers.

Ari Cohen, who with his brother Andrew just might one day be more famous than the Coen No H Brothers.

Next stop was the Beyond Meat booth. For those who might not know, Beyond Meat was one of the big stories of Vegan Year 2012. In fact, I think it’s the most hyped vegan product of all time. And unfortunately, it rarely lives up to the hype. From what I’ve learned, it’s very hard to prepare, although in skillful hands it can be great, and I’ve had a few preparations that were truly delicious. But most of the time, and especially when found in the prepared foods section of Whole Foods stores, it’s terrible. Sometimes it’s mushy, sometimes it’s hard. And if you read my blog regularly, you know I’ve often criticized Beyond Meat for their numerous shortcomings. Well, Beyond Meat had a giant booth at the Expo. And they were giving out lots of samples. But unfortunately, what I ate at their booth wasn’t good! It’s truly baffling, I have to tell you. One of the preparations they were offering at the Expo was some type of southwestern style concoction with corn and hot sauce. Did anyone really try this and think it was good? And while Beyond Meat has been exclusively known for their fake chicken so far, at the Expo they debuted their new fake ground beef crumbles in a chili they were serving, and sadly the chili just wasn’t good. Here’s my suggestion to the Beyond Meat people: hire a competent, perhaps well-known vegan chef to showcase your product, not the talentless dolt who you’ve currently got under contract.

Yuck. Seriously, did anyone enjoy this strange corn and hot sauce mixture?

Yuck. Seriously, did anyone enjoy this strange corn and hot sauce mixture?

Chili made with Beyond Meat's new fake ground beef crumbles. This did not taste good at all.

Chili made with Beyond Meat’s new fake ground beef crumbles. This did not taste good at all.

But one thing I will say about Beyond Meat is that the people who work on their management team could not have been friendlier. And it turns out they were familiar with my work, had read all the unflattering things I’ve written about their work-in-progress product, and were still pleasant as could be. They explained to me why things have gone so wrong for them, and their explanation went something like this: They never intended to debut their product via the Whole Foods prepared foods counters nationwide, but what happened was that after Mark Bittman of the New York Times wrote about Beyond Meat while it was still in its developmental stage, a frenzy broke out, and they felt the need to rush the product onto the market to capitalize on all the excitement. They claimed that their intention all along has been for the vast majority of their sales to come from the packaged Beyond Meat strips that were only just announced TODAY and still will not be on your grocer’s shelves until next month at the earliest. They say they anticipate that the prepared foods will only be a small slice of their business.

Okay, but someone at the company, whether pushed by their investors or not, still made the decision to rush the product onto the market via the Whole Foods prepared foods departments. And that is where the real problem occurs, because as they explained to me, in that context, they are merely an ingredient. And the Whole Foods employees who use their product to make the prepared foods often misuse the product. For example, I was told that when the product is frozen, it needs to be thawed to room temperature, but that some of the Whole Foods staffers try to speed up the thawing by placing the Beyond Meat in the oven to defrost it, which badly damages the product. This was offered by way of explanation as to why the product is often mushy and sometimes rock hard.

Kim Fernandez, vice president of retail sales, and Mary Adams, vice president of marketing at Beyond Meat. These people could not have been friendlier or more professional to someone as insufferable as yours truly, and Beyond Meat is lucky to have them!

Kim Fernandez, vice president of retail sales, and Mary Adams, vice president of marketing at Beyond Meat. These people could not have been friendlier or more professional to someone as insufferable as yours truly, and Beyond Meat is lucky to have them!

Furthermore, I was told that the Beyond Meat “merchandisers” assigned to Whole Foods have very little say in how Beyond Meat is used, prepared, displayed and sold. Some Whole Foods stores allow these merchandisers to give advice to their staff, but some do not. This would go some of the way toward explaining why still, nearly a year later, I often see what is clearly Beyond Meat displayed in Whole Foods prepared foods cases with ingredient cards that falsely claim the product you’re buying is made with Gardein and not Beyond Meat, even though these items haven’t been made with Gardein for months.

But clearly much if not all of the blame for the fiasco that has been Beyond Meat falls on the company itself. It’s obvious that despite the rush of publicity they received, they should not have rushed the product to market, especially now that I have learned that their intention all along has been for the vast majority of their sales to come from the retail packs, which as I said, ARE STILL NOT AVAILABLE. Instead, they debuted their product to the public in a way that they had very little control over, and as a result, when the retail packages finally reach consumers, they will be trying to get people to buy a product that has been badly damaged and which the vast majority of vegan, vegetarian, and health-oriented consumers have already had a bad experience with.

And the fact that their product was displayed in untasty preparations at their own trade show exhibit really makes you wonder how much of the blame lies elsewhere, or if they’re simply in denial about the incompetence that surely must exist at the top levels of this company.

And as I always do, let me just say again that I have seen the product be exceptional, and that chefs have told me that in the right hands no other meat substitute can compare. And as always, I wish them well, because of course I want nothing more than to have Beyond Meat be a delicious alternative to meat that will lead millions of people around the world to swap it out for the millions of pounds of chicken they now consume. But they’re probably not going to get there without wholesale changes in the upper echelon of the company.

This is what the Beyond Meat retail packs will look like when they finally reach stores some day.

This is what the Beyond Meat retail packs will look like when they finally reach stores some day.

One final thought about Beyond Meat: When the retail packs are finally available, it should be sold at Bed, Bath and Beyond, doncha think? Okay, let’s move beyond Beyond Meat because there’s still a lot more to cover. The next stop was Upton’s Naturals, where I spoke with the super-friendly Nicole Sopko, a vice president, who was giving out little pieces of sandwich made with their new bacon seitan. But what I really wanted to find out about was their vegan pastrami. I never got to try it before Phoney Baloney’s closed its storefront location in Irvine, and so I wanted to find out if any restaurants were currently serving it in the Los Angeles area, since it’s a food-service-only product. Nicole told me that I might be able to find it at Locali and was trying to think if there was any other place I could find it when her boyfriend, Dan Staackmann, the owner of Upton’s came back to the booth. Perfect, I thought, the owner will know for sure! But as friendly as Nicole was, Dan was unfriendly! Dude, what’s your problem? I’m a fan of your food, I want to buy more of it, I want to publicize it to my followers, and this is how you act? Well, these two are clearly in love, so I guess it’s yet another case of opposites attract. UPDATE: Dan e-mailed me after reading this post to apologize and explain that it had been a long, stressful week for him. I thought it was big of him to reach out like that and so perhaps I misjudged him and the situation.

It was hard to taste the seitan the way it was presented. I mostly tasted bread and lettuce, and I should have removed the seitan from the sandwich to try it on its own.

It was hard to taste the seitan the way it was presented. I mostly tasted bread and lettuce, and I should have removed the seitan from the sandwich to try it on its own.

One thing about the Expo is that the time zooms on by, kind of like the opposite of writing a blog post about the Expo. So before long we realized that we only had an hour or so left! Luckily, we made it to the Chicago Vegan Foods booth, because as I said earlier, these were some of the nicest people at the show, and they were giving out all kinds of samples. Chicago Vegan Foods, for a company that basically sells three products, has to be one of the more diverse companies out there. What they’ve got is Teese, their tasty fake cheese, then Dandies, their tasty vegan marshmallows, and now, some darn tasty vegan soft serve ice cream!

Nachos made with Teese. These were decidedly ballpark style, with no guac, beans or salsa, but they were tasty nonetheless. And who can resist hot Teese from a pump?!

Nachos made with Teese. These were decidedly ballpark-style, with no guac, beans or salsa, but they were tasty nonetheless. And who can resist hot Teese from a pump?!

I was particularly excited about the Dandies because I’ve heard so much about them but had never tried them before. And they were really, really good. More than just the taste, the Dandies also recreated that telltale powdery texture and mouthfeel of a truly legit marshmallow. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had a better marshmallow, vegan or non-vegan. And I’ve heard they even melt like a real marshmallow. In fact, the only thing they don’t contain is torture. I also learned the history of Dandies: There was the original size, then they came out with a larger size, and coming soon, a retail pack of mini-marshmallows, which up until now have only been available as a food service item.

I think Dandies are probably the best marshmallows I have ever had. In fact, they are simply... darn, I wish I could come up with an adjective!

I think Dandies are probably the best marshmallows I have ever had. In fact, they are simply… darn, I wish I could come up with an adjective!

But perhaps the most interesting thing I learned at the Chicago Vegan Foods booth is that Veggie Grill is trying out their soft serve at its new Laguna Niguel location. And, I hear, if things go well there the soft serve might become available at all Veggie Grill locations! I sure hope so, because the chocolate that I sampled was really good!

Coming soon to a Veggie Grill near you?

Coming soon to a Veggie Grill near you?

Like I said, time was running out so we quickly moved on and found the Hodo Soy booth. This, proclaimed @SpecialNeedsy, is the best tofu in the world! Wow, that’s quite a statement. So I did some sampling and you know what? It was pretty dang good! If Hodo Soy sounds familiar, maybe it’s because it’s the Oakland-based company that is providing the tofu for Chipotle‘s new sofritas burritos, which are currently being tested at seven Chipotle locations in San Francisco. And the owner of Hodo Soy told us that if things go well, the sofritas should be available in Los Angeles this summer!

I need this in a store near me!

I need this in a store near me!

One of the booths I was excited to see was The Real Deal chips people. I recently went looking for the new Lay’s Potato Chips sriracha flavor only to learn that they were made with cheese. Boooo! But someone left a comment on my Instagram letting me know that The Real Deal makes sriracha chips that are good. And then, lo and behold, there they were at the Expo! But then, no and behold, they were out of samples of the sriracha chips. However, even so and behold, the woman was nice enough to give me a full-size retail bag straight off their display since the Expo was drawing to a close anyway. And I am happy to report, these little scoop shaped chips are really tasty. They’re also gluten-free, and if you’re a gluten-free vegan, be sure to check out SuperVegan’s excellent roundup on all the GF goodies (gfoodies?) at the show.

IMG_3823

One of things I almost forgot to mention was that while grazing at the Chicago Vegan Foods both, I ran into Jackie of Vegan Yack Attack fame, who is one of the nicest vegan humans I have met. We chatted for a bit and she told me I should try the WayFare ice cream from Montana. Well, if I wasn’t going to miss any ice cream at the Expo, I certainly wasn’t going to miss any recommended ice cream, so off we went.

And on the way to Montana we passed another vegan ice cream that I’d heard about, NadaMoo. Unfortunately, the the women manning their booth were NadaFriendly. Even though there was still a good half hour to go in the Expo, they were already packing up and refused to give us a sample. Luckily, one of the men womaning the booth took pity on us and gave us some ice cream. And I am sorry to report that this was just not good. In fact, it was the worst ice cream of the Expo.

I will Nada be buying this.

I will Nada be buying this.

So despite eating bad ice cream, a hardship which brings to mind Lewis and Clark, like those determined explorers we persevered and headed for Montana. And finally, there it was, four unrelated companies sharing a giant Made in Montana booth. And you know what? Vegan Yack Attack was right, the WayFare ice cream turned out to be WayGood. And here’s the most interesting part: it’s oat-based! And oats in your ice cream beats horse in your burger any day.

Oh, it's just some delicious oat-based Vermont maple ice cream from Montana.

Oh, it’s just some delicious oat-based Vermont maple ice cream from Montana.

By now the Expo really was just about over. And we had almost seen it all. As we raced to finish up, and turned the corner for the last row of booths, we stumbled across a vendor who turned out to be one of my favorites of the entire show, The Elegant Vegan. Not only did The Elegant Vegan have some delicious brownies for us to try, but they gave us samples of their extraordinary pickled items. Ever had pickled kale before? Me neither, and it was GOOD!

IMG_3818

And that was it, the last booth of the Expo. As proud as I was of myself after Day One for not being so stuffed that I couldn’t eat on Day Two, I was proud after Day Two that while my stomach was stuffed, my brain still had enough space left to think about one more thing: Girl Scout Cookies! You see, the Girl Scout cookies sold in L.A. County are not vegan, because they come from Little Brownie Bakers, which puts milk in all their cookies, BOO! However, the Girl Scouts of Orange County get their cookies from the other bakery that makes cookies for the Girl Scouts, ABC Bakers. And a mere four blocks from the convention center, outside a supermarket in a non-descript shopping center, we made one final score.

Vegan I tells ya, VEGAN!!!

Vegan I tells ya, VEGAN!!!

THE END. (Until about an hour after I got home, when I ate some of the cookies.)

Why this keeps happening is Beyond Meat

20 Oct

Have you been following my Beyond Meat saga? And by saga I mean two boring blog posts. Plus this one. Three.

It started off on Wednesday when Beyond Meat sent out a not-even-quite-cryptic email asking us all to guess which region they were rolling out in that day. As one of my Instagram followers said: I wasn’t in the mood to guess.

Then after a similarly mysterious Tweet they sent a second Tweet revealing that it’s Southern California. Now keep in mind, Beyond Meat had already been available for a few weeks in the Madeleine Bistro bistro box, and in big bags at Viva La Vegan, and in sandwiches at Phoney Baloney’s. But I guess the fact that it was going into Whole Foods was supposed to be a big deal. The place they expected to find their core audience or something. Like match.com for fake meat and fake meat lovers.

Except they completely blew it. The email, tweets and website all directed people to the prepared foods cases at Whole Foods and listed a whole bunch of Whole Foods locations where you could find it in Los Angeles. So, because I’m pathetic, I jumped right in the car and burned rubber. (Hyperbole.)

Beyond Meat mislabeled as Gardein at the Westwood Whole Foods

But when I got to the Whole Foods in Westwood there wasn’t any in the prepared foods case. Only in a nasty steamed-vegetable-concoction at the hot bar. With a card saying, “Gardein Chicken.” So I headed over to the Whole Foods in West L.A. Where there wasn’t any in the prepared foods case either. Or the hot bar. And only after encountering a knowledgeable and helpful “team member” who wondered why so many people kept coming in that day asking for Beyond Meat, and learning from me that it was their big rollout day, wondered why nobody bothered to tell Whole Foods that or to make sure it was actually on hand.

You see it turned out that both stores DID have Beyond Meat. Only not the day of the rollout. They had it for the previous two weeks. But again, NOT on the day of the rollout. Finally, the helpful team member had an inkling where I might be able to find it — he thought there might be some left over from the previous day at the taco bar. And he was right! There under the tag “Vegan Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce” was some Beyond Meat, and it was as good as the steam table concoction was bad.

I was sold. Or so I thought.

The Beyond Meat in Tomatillo Sauce was so good that I wanted to try it some other ways. So the next day, after getting some very positive tweets from Beyond Meat saying that my blog post had led them to look into their distribution problems, I went off to some of the other Whole Foods listed on the Beyond Meat website to see what I could find.

Beyond Meat Summer Chicken Salad. Photograph taken on October 18th.

At the Whole Foods on 5th and Wilshire in Santa Monica, for the first time I encountered Beyond Meat in the prepared foods case, which is where customers were supposed to be able to find it all along. It was only available in one preparation: a “Summer Chicken Salad.”  Okay, I know, it was October 18th. But I have to tell you, this preparation would not have tasted any better on July 18th. It was nasty. It was in some purple-colored mayonnaise-like dressing that turned the whole salad purple. Who created this recipe, tasted it, and said “Yes, this tastes good!”?  But I bought some anyway because, well, it was still Beyond Meat and I had driven there!

Then I went to the Whole Foods at Wilshire and 23rd in Santa Monica. (Yes, there are two Whole Foods eighteen blocks apart — one was a smaller store from when Whole Foods acquired Wild Oats.) And there, in the giant prepared foods case, at the giant 23rd and Wilshire store, they had NO Beyond Meat. Did they even know what it was? Yes, they did! And they said they had some on Monday, in fact. But not since then. Which means not on Wednesday, the day of the company’s alleged giant rollout.

Vegan Curry Chicken Salad Pre-Pack

However, a few minutes later, nosing through the refrigerated shelving where the pre-packed foods are displayed, I found one (and only one) pre-packed Vegan Chicken Curry Salad. Now mind you, the Whole Foods vegan chicken curry salad is one of my staples and has been since I first went vegan a little over two years ago. Back then it was made with Gardein. I loved it, ate it at least twice a week for lunch. It was really good. Then, about a year ago, they stopped making it with Gardein and switched to Eco-Cuisine. I was devastated! I contacted Whole Foods and was told that Eco-Cuisine absorbed the sauce better and they were sticking with it. *Sigh*

Well, that happens in life. The things you like go away or get changed. You have to move on. And learn to accept online bill pay and eat Eco-Cuisine. So I did. And while it wasn’t as good, I got used to it. Maybe, just maybe, it was almost as good. Or at least as my Gardein Memories faded it was.

But now, in my hand, reading the label, I saw that my beloved vegan chicken curry salad was… drumstick roll please… made with Beyond Meat! Exciting! I guess. So I bought it.

Mislabeled card at Beverly Hills Whole Foods

And then… yesterday… aka Friday… I was in Beverly Hills, and wouldn’t you know it, they also have a Whole Foods that was on the Beyond Meat website list. So I went. And what kind of Beyond Meat did they have in the prepared foods case? Nothing, according to the first team member I spoke to. And nothing, according to the woman he asked after I asked him to ask someone else. However, the person she asked after I asked her to ask someone else, who was the head of the prepared foods section, told me that in fact there was an item in the prepared foods case made with Beyond Meat, and it was… the vegan chicken curry salad. “But look,” I said, “The card for it says it’s made with Eco-Cuisine.” “Yeah I know,” he said, “But the card is wrong.”  And so I bought some, even though I already had some in a pre-pack in my fridge. Because, well, like I said, I was excited about Beyond Meat, and I wanted to see if there was any difference between the fresh and the pre-pack.

And here’s the result of my scientific experiment, aka eating: the Whole Foods vegan curry chicken salad, when made with Beyond Meat, SUCKS. The pre-pack and the fresh sucked equally. They weren’t nearly as good as the Eco-Cuisine, which wasn’t as good as the Gardein. Now I’m a realist, and I don’t ever expect to see Eco-Cuisine at Whole Foods again. They have clearly thrown in their lot with Beyond Meat and whenever Whole Foods make a change like this there is no going back. And like I said, the Beyond Meat in the Tomatillo Sauce at the taco bar was fantastic. Really, really good. But somehow, the sauce from the vegan chicken curry salad, or some other food chemistry reaction from the ingredients, turned the Beyond Meat in the chicken curry salad into a hard rubberlike substance. Chewing it was like chewing taffy, only harder. It was like taking a rubber washer from your washing machine and trying to eat it. One piece was so hard and rubbery I literally could not chew it enough to swallow it. I had to take it out of my mouth and throw it into the trash. It refused to allow itself to be chewed.

THIS IS BAD.

How could someone at Whole Foods have tried this and thought it could be served to humans? I imagine they knew it could not, but were under orders to use Beyond Meat in this product from now on anyway. Period. There is nothing else I can imagine that would explain why Whole Foods would do this. If the BMB (Beyond Meat Boss) were to try a bite of this vegan curry chicken salad he would be horrified. Mortified. Because, like me and my tomatillo, he knows how good his product can be. And this was the opposite. The nadir. It was a showcase for how BAD his product can be. It was so bad you practically wondered if it was a competitor committing sabotage. It really was that gross.

So what’s next? Hopefully, since Beyond Meat seems to be aware and concerned about the fiasco they are enduring in their Whole Foods rollout, they will investigate, get the recipes fixed, and make sure their product is used in ways that make everyone realize how good it can be. Otherwise they will quickly begin to wonder why nobody is buying their product. And Whole Foods, if they have the kind of inventory system I imagine them to have, will wonder why sales of the once quick-moving vegan chicken curry salad have begun to dry up.

And it’s early. I know. And things can be fixed. And I hope they will be. But like I said, how any of this could have happened in the first place is Beyond Meat.

Beyond Meat responds

18 Oct

Beyond Meat Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce taco

Yesterday I wrote about how excited I was to hear that Beyond Meat was finally launching in Southern California. But although the company tweeted that their product was now available here, at the two Whole Foods I went to there was much confusion. Some employees knew what it was and some did not. Both stores said it had been there for two weeks but that it wasn’t in the prepared foods case that day at either — which is where the company’s tweets and emails said it could be found. Even more troubling, at one store the identification card called it simply “Vegan Chicken” while at the other store it was labeled “Gardein Chicken”! From the point of view of Beyond Meat, could things have possibly gone worse?

Perhaps the problems lay with Whole Foods not Beyond Meat, but it seemed at a minimum that Beyond Meat had not coordinated with Whole Foods in the region to make sure that their stores were aware that yesterday was the big rollout day and to even make sure to have enough on hand and to have it be represented in the prepared foods case, which is where Beyond Meat was telling its enthusiastic customers to look for it. Not at the hot food bar  in sorry steam table preparations like this:

As I’m sure you’ve heard, Beyond Meat is billing itself as the best fake meat yet. And I have to say that the texture is better than Gardein, at least for some purposes. If it’s replacing diced or sliced chicken, then Beyond Meat has more of the “give” that real chicken does. Although in something like a chicken parmigiana that calls for a chicken breast, the Gardein might still be the better option. Regardless, it’s always good to have more options, especially if it’s an option that encourages carnivores to try substituting it for real animals.

Today Beyond Meat responded to my blog post and I appreciate how attentive they were. They are looking into it and hopefully that will mean that before long Beyond Meat will truly be available in various preparations at Whole Foods stores throughout Southern California. In the meantime, if your local Whole Foods has a taco bar and has the “Vegan Chicken in Tomatillo Sauce” and it has the more layery look that gives it away as Beyond Meat not Gardein, then by all means get yourself a taco or burrito of it. It was delicious!

Changes Afoot at Yard House

29 May

You may remember a while back that a PR flack for Yard House made the boneheaded move of inviting Quarrygirl to come dine on some non-vegan items. The flack would up taking a lot of, um, yeah. Well, Yard House wasn’t too happy about that and is now getting the word out about some changes they’ve made to their menu resulting in a few new products that are actually vegan.

Someone I know got an email from them and forwarded it around. Maybe you’ve seen it already. Basically, they are trying out a new menu at two of their locations: Pasadena and Costa Mesa. The menu is now using a V for items that are vegetarian. There is no marking for vegan, or even use of the word. Apparently they are afraid to use the word for fear of lawsuits. How an item marked “vegan” that gets cross-contaminated with dairy or egg is any worse than an item marked “vegetarian” that gets contaminated with meat is beyond me. Maybe the truth is that Yard House is afraid to use the word vegan because they think it’ll turn off non-vegans or non-vegetarians who might try a Gardein item for a change of pace. Don’t know.

Either way, the important part is that there are now some vegan options at Yard House. The two main ones are the Gardein Chicken Rice Bowl and the Gardein Orange Peel Chicken. Previously we needed to stay away from anything battered at Yard House because all battered items had egg, but now they say they are using an eggless rice flour batter on all their Gardein items. There are also two salads that are vegan: the Summer Salad and the Citrus Soy Salad, plus two appetizers: the hummus and edamame.

It’s not a ton but it’s something, and as I’ve said to many a server: I don’t need a lot of options, I just need one.

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