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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
Okay, seriously, Gardein introduced so many new items that it was getting silly already:
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:
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.
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.
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).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
THE END. (Until about an hour after I got home, when I ate some of the cookies.)