Monday, March 11, 2013

2013 Natural Products Expo West - reflections

The Natural Products Expo West is the largest natural products trade show in the world bringing tens of thousands of people from the natural products industry together. I thought I'd just take a moment to reflect on the show itself.

The bad
I'm going to put aside the relationships I have and just comment objectively about a few things as a veracious vegan should. I will begin by stating that I love all my friends in the industry, which includes vegan companies as well as those companies not completely vegan, but who offer vegan products. That said, there are just a few things that no company should ever do.

#1 If you have a vegan product and are offering samples at the show, don't pair the item with a non-vegan product -- especially if you are highlighting that it is vegan. 

Offenders during this show included both Lightlife and Morningstar and it was incredibly disappointing. Lightlife even tweeted me to tell me to go check out their new vegan chick'n products. When I arrived at the booth, the first thing I asked was if it was on a vegan bun because they served non-vegan buns with their vegan items last year. They confirmed that the bun was not vegan. Their excuse: the bread they order through the expo isn't vegan. Would she have told me that had I not asked? I bet not. They'd just market it as a vegan product and wait for you to eat it. That is very uncool, not to mention dangerous for those with allergies. When I and another girl asked if we could try it sans bun, the woman abruptly told us to take it off the bun. I finally asked her if she could just serve me one out of the oven rather than take the time to explain to her why it was so obviously unacceptable that she suggest I remove it from the bun. The other girl stormed off in a rage. I don't blame her, but I really wanted to try it. In the end, it just left a bad taste in my mouth overall, no pun intended.

The same goes for Morningstar -- they had their new vegan burgers out to sample, which were also served on non-vegan buns. No apologies, nothing.

Field Roast, Turtle Island, and Upton's Naturals all went out of their way to purchase vegan bread. The difference is that they are all vegan companies, while Morningstar and Lightlife are not. Regardless, it is still unacceptable. If you are going to serve vegans vegan food, then serve it with other vegan food. I don't know why people don't seem to take this dietary preference seriously. Perhaps it is because they don't feel we will die from eating a few animal products because it isn't an allergy. Although for some, for example, those with dairy allergies, it could be life-threatening. I bet you anything that if companies serve gluten-free burgers and market them as such, that they are serving them on gluten-free bread. It's just a guess, but I'm pretty sure that is true. It just doesn't seem right.

I really hope Lightlife and Morningstar read this (I will send it to them) and make these changes next year. They need to understand that this practice is unacceptable.

#2 If you are going to manufacture a vegan product, don't put a non-vegan ingredient in the ingredient list if it isn't even an ingredient.

Confused? Yeah, me too. As I approached the massive Beyond Meat booth and tried their product, I flipped the box over to check out the ingredients. As a professional ingredient scanner, having done so for the past 20+ years, the first thing I saw was "chicken." Shocked and appalled, I asked what the heck this was. Then, I got a 10-minute spiel about how vegans aren't their target market and how there were these other groups -- the flexitarians and the "meat reducers." While the flexitarians identify themselves as eating vegetarian meals regularly, the meat reducers want to reduce their meat intake, but aren't sure how. The meat reducers are their target market. By putting "chicken flavoring" in the ingredients, they believe they will influence people's taste buds so they will think it tastes more like chicken. But, in fact, in doing so, they are going to confuse the heck out of people. And vegans won't touch it until they understand why it states that. This is unprecedented. No other vegan company puts an animal product in their ingredient list. A vegan will surely think there is some hidden chicken flavoring unless they know better. As I mentioned this to other vegan companies the next day, they were all perplexed and shocked by this. Not a smart business decision, Beyond Meat. If your product is vegan, take the "chicken flavoring" off the label and just put "flavoring."

#3 No matter what your spin is on your product, know if it is or isn't vegan.

If I had a dime for every company who told me they were organic, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, alien-free, non-GMO, etc., but didn't know if they were vegan, I'd be a rich woman. And then I'd get to go live with all the other cool vegans on the planet Vega. Bottom line: know whether you have a vegan product or not before you get to the show. And vegan products do NOT include honey. If the product is not vegan, that's fine - just be sure you can tell consumers what they are trying.

The good
That said, I met some really incredible people this weekend. Really incredible. These are people, vegan or not, who are out to change the world. They are out to feed people real food -- good food. They are out to lobby against the conglomerates to label GMOs. They are out to educate people on why the superfoods really are super. These are the people who will go down in history for making a difference, for offering people healthy options, and for putting it all on the line to make their dreams come true. And for all of you out there working all night long to perfect your product and get it out on the market while working a full-time job, I salute you. Keep it up and know that there are plenty of people who appreciate and respect you. You inspire me and you inspire others.

And the pretty
I hope to be continually inspired as I go to these shows and I hope to be able to help promote good products in any way I can. Let's all work together to make a difference. Because you and I can. Till next year, my friends!

Me (left), Marisa HodgesFord (middle), Vegan Chef Jason Wrobel (right)


  1. I agree this is a real problem. Another example was DF Mavens %100 Vegan Key Lime Pie flavor that contains honey. Maybe %100 vegan also means it contains horse meat too!

  2. If this is true, that is very disturbing. Did DF Mavens tell you it had honey in it?

  3. I'm very sorry that you received the response that you did in our Beyond Meat booth at Expo West. It sounds as if someone were answering a different question than you asked, but since I wasn't a part of the conversation, I can't address the flexitarian discussion for you.

    What I can clarify is that our vegan chicken flavoring is indeed vegan. Our three new retail products are 100% vegan, as were all our samples at Expo West. As you can see below in our package ingredients listing for our Lightly-Seasoned Chicken-Free Strips, the chicken flavor is labeled as vegan in parenthesis. Why in parenthesis? As you may or may not know, the FDA mandates how ingredients are listed so that experienced label readers will had standardized language from package to package and brand to brand. It's not as simple as us deciding to use the word "vegan" as part of the chicken flavor labeling.

    I also wanted to commend you for pointing out the companies that did use all vegan ingredients in their recipes at Expo West. We felt strongly about this as well, and all three of our recipes in the booth were vegan.

    No, we don't "advertise" our product as having chicken. As you can see from the front panel of the package, we call our product: Chicken-Free Strips. Again, there are legal restrictions on using the word "chicken" for a meat alternative product that does not contain chicken. This is why some companies call their products "Chick'n" or "Vegan-chicken." We chose to call ours "Chicken-Free" -- always with a hyphen, since the USDA has a standard of identity for real chicken which cannot be referenced by an analog company.

    I hope this explains why we have to use the "chicken flavor (vegan)" terminology in our ingredient decks, but don't use this language anywhere else on our package nor in our materials. Instead we proudly proclaim that our retail products are Vegan!

    If you have any other questions or comments, please let me know. Thanks for stopping by our booth and trying the products!

    Mary Adams
    Beyond Meat

  4. Mary,
    There is no doubt in my mind that your vegan chicken flavoring is vegan. That isn't the point. You don't need to use "vegan" in the ingredient label as I'm pretty certain the product is labeled vegan somewhere else. Instead, you don't need to use the word "chicken" before flavoring since there is no chicken in the flavoring, which is why it doesn't make sense to state it as "chicken flavoring." So your response still doesn't explain why you can't just use "flavoring" as all other companies do.

    Don't get me wrong -- I sincerely appreciate what you are doing and the product you represent. I just think the label should be revised.

  5. The DF Mavens Key Lime Pie pint container that I bought at the health food store states %100 vegan and the ingredients list honey. The label also states soy-free but has soy listed in the ingredients too. The soy is not a big deal for me but may be for many peopl. Really, if you can't trust the labels what can you trust. We have to believe what these people are putting in our food!

  6. I really appreciate you telling me about this. I will get in touch with them to clarify.

  7. Re DF Mavens,

    Thank you very much for sharing your concerns. My apologies for the confusion and frustration this situation has caused. As a bee-free, ethical vegan for more than a decade, I also take these issues very seriously. Fortunately, this issue was a result of a labeling mishap, and there was no soy lecithin or honey in the actual product you purchased, ensuring that no animal (human or non) has been put at risk. The mistake was the result of one employee in the company using incorrect ingredients for the graham crackers that are in that flavor. The actual product in the store has never and will never contain honey or any other non-vegan ingredient. Now that the issue has been brought to our attention, the pints of Key Lime Crème ice cream are being pulled from the store and the label is being replaced.

    Please accept our sincerest apology for the mistake, but know that we take our responsibility to protect our consumers, and the animals we share this planet with, very seriously.

  8. To clarify, it was not "using" the incorrect ingredients, but "listing" them on the package. As I said there is no honey anywhere in DF Mavens' products.

  9. RE DF Mavens, I find this labeling mishap to be very suspect. How can a vegan company with "no honey anywhere" mistakenly put honey in the ingredient list? Where does the employee get the idea to invent honey out of nowhere? The ingredient sources must come from somewhere and at some point there must have been honey involved. And how can a labeling mistake even happen, how deep do those mistakes and confusions go? Who is not double checking ingredients? The whole thing feels like making excuses and for a new brand to come out of nowhere and target a specific consumer and have employees who can't tell the difference between honey and no-honey is really weird and suspicious.

  10. Honey is such a controversial issue. I became vegan for me. And I felt your blog needed one post from a vegan that does consume honey. I honestly had a little hissy fit and refused to give it up. I gave up everything else for migraines so terrible I could only lay in bed and cry. We share with the trees for maple syrup we can share with the bees for honey. Other than honey I am very strict because meat and dairy make me ill. There are even published books where the author has similar views as mine. I am aware you wouldn't consider me vegan, but maybe my post will help another.