Five years ago at the National Restaurant Association show, if you were looking to alternatives to conventional food, you would have found a wide range of items that were free of gluten and other allergens, as well as a fair number of items that were vegan.
At this year’s show (and last year’s) what you would have found instead was a staggering array of plant-based items, mostly plant-based protein that were stand-ins for beef and chicken, and increasingly for seafood, as well as dairy-free alternatives for milk, eggless egg substitutes, and some items that were called plant-based for no particular reason other than that that’s a trendy thing to call food — plant-based dumpling wrappers were on display at the show, colored with beets and other vegetables, as though dumplings were normally wrapped in meat.
This trend was in evidence before the pandemic started, as the early wave of meat analogs became available and legacy brands such as Country Crock recast themselves as things like “plant butter.”
But much more than that is available at the show, including premium items, which tend to do well in sluggish economies as wealthy consumers trade down from big purchases to three-hour vacations in restaurants, and plants being exhibited as the best versions of themselves rather than substitutes for something else.
Foodstuffs other than animal and plant products are also on offer, such as fungi and algae.
Take a look at what trend-forward items can be found at this year’s show.