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15 Promising Plant

Jun 07, 2023Jun 07, 2023

No, this isn't a reference to the fake butter brand. It's something a number of attendees were saying at this year's National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, where a wide range of plant-based meat options were showcased across Lakeside, Startup Alley, and the packed Organic & Natural Pavilion. With continued consumer demand for sustainable and cruelty-free alternatives, there has likely never been more fake meats featured at NRA before.

The offerings included burgers, sausages, cheese, eggs, steaks, nuggets, chicken sandwiches, and even seafood substitutes like plant-based shrimp and salmon. These plant-based meats utilized innovative ingredients such as pea protein, soy, mushrooms, jackfruit, and more to replicate the taste, texture, and appearance of the traditional animal product. Several brands highlighted their commitment to clean labels, emphasizing non-GMO, organic, and gluten-free options. The following 15 plant-based NRA Show eats showcase new flavorful and ethical choices for restaurants and consumers seeking environmentally conscious alternatives, without compromising on taste.

Located in the Startup Alley at the NRA Show this year, The ISH Food Company debuted an impressive lineup of "disruptive" plant-based seafood options. One key benefit? No worries about fish or shellfish allergens. Shrimpish, for example, has coconut listed as its second ingredient, and provides 300 milligrams of Omega-3 fatty acids per serving, which is equal to four to five pieces.

"We the only plant-based seafood company that I know of that's actually fortifying with long-chain Omega 3s, which is what you get from fish oil, but we use them from algae," says Leann Barden, vice president of research and development at ISH. "That's one of the biggest reasons people eat fish, and now you don't have to sacrifice that, and you still get all the heart, brain, and eye benefits—without the mercury, without the slave labor, without the bycatch."

With 17 percent fewer calories than cooked shrimp, the plant-based product can be grilled, sautéed, fried, and even used as an addition to microwavable entrees, stews, soups, and more. An information sheet featured a recipe for a Shrimpish citrus salad. Shrimpish Crumbles are similar, but are best used as in dishes like street tacos, or Korean-Style dumplings.

But the star of the show was the Salmonish Burgers, made with notes of garlic and herb and providing 14 grams of protein per serving. The product is made with kelp, an ocean-regenerating ingredient high in minerals like potassium and iron, with other ingredients including soy protein, garlic powder, and sea salt. The company featured the product in a Nordic Salmonish Burger recipe, served between a whole-grain bun with Bibb lettuce, thick-sliced tomato, pickled red onion, and basil aioli.

Founded in 2020 by Bernard David, ISH is a certified B-Corp company and is building up a robust pipeline of plant-based seafood products, including Codish, Crabish, Lobsterish, and more to come. One of the biggest differentiators is that all of the ingredients used in ISH products goes through a nutritional screening process using peer-reviewed literature, as well as a sustainability screen which looks at the levels of Co2 in each ingredient.

"One of the reasons that I created this company was actually to figure out a way to change the food system," David told FSR. "A third of the Co2 emissions come from food and agriculture. So how do you shift that system? And how do you in turn also make people healthy?"

ISH created the nutritional and sustainability screenings as an internal tool, but will soon be releasing it "to the rest of the world, so we can actually help others create a healthier system, whether its chefs who are creating recipes, or product developers.

"What's really important to us is we're just serving really delicious food to people that's really better for them, because that's what eating plants should be all about," David adds. "You don't have to bulk it up with all kinds of garbage."

Made with soy protein, pea flour, chickpea protein, potato protein, and a little turmeric extract, Zero Egg is the brainchild of Liron Nimrodi, who a bachelor's of science degree in Food Engineering from the Israel Institute of Technology and an MBA from Tel Aviv University. Nimrodi wanted to offer the world a plant-based egg that functions like a hen's egg, so in 2018, she co-founded Zero Egg at Strauss-The Kitchen, an Israeli food-tech hub.

"The egg category has been lagging behind, and the reason is, the technology barrier is very high, since you need a liquid to create structure in the pan and to perform in baked goods," Nimrodi tells FSR at the NRA Show. "We scaled up in the U.S. about 4.5 years ago," she adds, and the breakfast category boom since COVID has only helped the concept grow awareness and new partners.

Zero Egg is vegan, low fat, contains no cholesterol or dairy, and is non-GMO and preservative free. The "Cluck'n Tasty Eggs" come in patty, liquid, or scramble formats, and is already featured on menus in more than 40 locations in New York City, including in Chef Guy Vaknin's restaurants. Vaknin is known for his innovative plant-based creations, and is the owner of Beyond Sushi, Willow Bistro, and City Roots.

"Versatility is a major differentiator. We've tried others, and ours has the whole range," Nimrodi says, adding she's not bothered by more competition popping up, since ultimately it's creating more awareness for the category. "It creates demand. We just want to be one of the first to take market share.

"The do-it-all plant-based milk like no udder."

"Why NotMilk?"

Located in the Lakeside Center, NotCo uses A.I. technology to create plant-based milk and meat products that mimic the look, taste, smell, and functionality of traditional animal-based products. That means the company's products feature some unique ingredients—like peas, and pineapple and cabbage juice concentrates in its NotMilk, for example, which touts itself as the sustainable, plant-based beverage that tastes, cooks, and blends just like milk.

Beth Lawrence, vice president of foodservice, says the company's AI system "spits out ideas, then our team of chefs work to tweak it, then feed the information back into the AI using unique combinations."

"Our milk uses cabbage, peas, and pineapples, and creates a lactose-like texture," she adds. "Our chicken uses peach and bamboo, and our burger uses cocoa and chicory root. It helps development speed, and [the AI] gets faster."

Earlier in May, Shake Shack launched new plant-based items nationwide, including the brand's first-ever non-dairy shake and frozen custard made using NotMilk. Shake Shack began testing the Non-Dairy Chocolate Custard and Chocolate Shake powered by NotCo in May of 2022.

"Taste is foremost, but it also has to function. Our NotMilk can be baked into a brownie and used in a heavy cream," Lawrence says. "Shake Shack was our first national launch, we got into Dot foods in March, and we're in 500 restaurants now."

Plus, NotCo will soon launch NotMilk Barista, which holds latte art, in Latin America at Starbucks and Dunkin' locations.

At the show, NotCo debuted its new foodservice offerings, including NotChicken Nuggets and NotMilk Barista, plus showcased its other plant-based products including NotChicken Crispy Patties, NotBurger, and NotMilk Whole and Chocolate. On May 20 and 22, its show menu featured NotChicken and Waffles, Rodeo NotBurger, Sweet Soy-glazed NotChicken Bao Buns, and Al Pastor-style Mini Notburger Meat Tacos. On May 21 and 23, the company served up NotChicken Breakfast Sandwiches, NotChicken garlic and basil marinara sandwich, and Notburger Meat Chinese-style dumplings.

From a sustainability standpoint, NotBurger used 89 percent less energy, 87 percent less water, and 89 percent less Co2 emission generated than in the traditional burger production process, according to a NotCo internal audit in 2020. Meanwhile, NotMilk uses 74 percent less energy, 92 percent less water, and 74 percent less Co2 emission generated than in the traditional milk production process.

The plant-based brand took a daring approach to marketing itself at the NRA Show (no doubt an attempt to entice people to walk the 10 minutes all the way over to Lakeside) by passing out pamphlets with a list of its competitors' ingredients, showcasing itself as "the shortest ingredient list of any chicken alternative." It listed Beyond Meat as having 40 ingredients, Impossible with 25, Morning Star Farms with 17, Gardein with 14, Tindle with nine, Quorn with nine. Meanwhile, Daring with six ingredients: Water, soy protein concentrate, vegetable oil (sunflower and/or canola), salt, natural flavors, and spice blend. The plant-based chicken sandwich it featured at the Show was paired with a brioche bun, tomato, lettuce, and pickles, and was seen as a popular lunch choice among attendees. Its key to success? "Super chicken-y" taste and texture, and a simple list of clean-label ingredients.

Acccording to a CRC Dining Out Survey in April 2022, 59 percent of plant-based eaters say having meatless options on the menu impacts which restaurant they choose. Meanwhile, 82 percent of flexitarians believe more restaurants should serve plant-based meat alternative options.

The Nashville, Tennessee-based deli and market makes vegan pepperoni using Seitan, otherwise known as wheat gluten—a rare find in a gluten-free-saturated category. That's because wheat gluten makes it taste better, notes Chef Diana Zadlo, vice president and culinary director at The BE-Hive. "We're not scared of allergens," she says. The company featured a vegan pepperoni and cheese pizza at the NRA Show in the Startup Alley inline.

Fun fact: Though Seitan is the popular term used in the Western world, it's the Japanese term for this ingredient, which actually dates back almost 1,500 years ago to ancient China. Buddhist monks in the sixth century discovered after soaking their wheat dough in water and removing all the starch, leaving the high-protein miànjīn, which roughly translates to "flour tendon" or "dough tendon," which hints at its chewy texture.

Other ingredients in the BE-Hive's pepperoni product include beans, sundried tomato, salt, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, tomato paste, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, fennel seeds, paprika, mustard seeds, smoked paprika, red pepper flakes, onion powder, and black pepper—a long but tasty list. The maker of "dope plant food" was born from a group of friends in a band called "Born Empty," thus, "BE" in the brand name. While living together and throwing big vegan potluck parties, the group honed their cooking skills with the goal to make plant-based eating approachable to more people.

The elephant in the room: Impossible's NRA Show booth—technically labeled as its own island—was in good company amongst other plant-based friends (kitty-corner from TiNDLE and New Wave Foods, and right next to the Organic & Natural Pavilion). Impossible is currently served in more than 45,000 foodservice locations across the U.S. and purchased through Dot Foods.

The company sampled a new product at the show, which won't be launched into distribution until late June or July, says Megan Collins, product communications at Impossible Foods. "What better opportunity than to sample at NRA, where every restaurant owner possible is here, and thankfully it's getting really good reviews."

When asked what kind of feedback the brand is getting on the new product, Collins says people are saying "it's meatier, it's juicier, it's beefier, it tastes like meat."

Look for more news on Impossible's new release in the coming weeks.

There was a line of people waiting to try newcomer Chunk at the NRA Show this year—and for good reason. The whole-cut steak is made from plants, yet touts itself just as delicious, succulent, and tender as a real piece of meat, and loaded with flavor. Chunk is made with cultured soy and wheat, coconut oil, beet juice concentrate color, salt, and fortified with Vitamin B12 and 10.1 milligrams of iron. Plus, it has 25 grams of protein per every 4 oz. serving. Versatility is another highlight, with options to pan sear, baste, grill, smoke, stew, braise, or bake. The plant-based steak is created to be a center-of-plate standout that cuts, cooks, plates, and pairs just like beef.

"We make what we want to eat," says founder Amos Golan, who was handing out samples with a smile at the company's NRA Show booth. "This summer we're going nationwide. We'll do foodservice first—restaurants are excited, and we're onboarding [some] now...chefs love it."

Golan founded Chunk nearly three years ago out of his home kitchen. Now, the company is on a mission to outcompete animal agriculture on price, scale, and efficiency, and uses solid-state fermentation technology to get there. It enables the creation of any texture, nutritional profile, and appearance, with minimal waste. Chunk "is changing the meat industry" with its first target set on beef, but pork, lamb, and poultry are next.

"Chunk is a game-changer. It has incredible taste and texture and is super easy to use and train my cooks to use it. We serve 50-70 units per night," said Chef Guy Vaknin who, as mentioned earlier, is known for his innovative plant-based creations.

In a 30-day study at Vaknin's restaurant City Roots in Manhattan, New York, Chunk sold over 1.5 times dishes than the next most popular dish, and represented about 29.6 percent of the restaurant food items revenue on average. Menu items incorporating Chunk accounted for 20 percent of the total restaurant revenue.

Chunk was also served as a Sunday-only special at The Butcher's Daughter in West Hollywood, California. The restaurant was founded by Heather Tierney, and saw a 25 percent increase in dinner sales on nights it served Chunk, which sold out nightly. At Tierney's De Buena Planta, a plant-forward Mexican concept in Silverlake and Venice Beach in California, the Barbacoa Taco made with Chunk Steak is the number one selling taco on the menu. "Many diners are coming in just for these specific dishes," Tierney noted in a statement.

Alchemeat claims to be "the most realistic, best-tasting animal-free steak on the market," and has a 2023 FABI Award to prove it. (The NRA's FABI Award represents the most forward-thinking and creative new tastes that are driving trends.)

"It's all about the texture," says Michael Downing, go-to-market manager at Alchemeat. "Our inventor (and CEO) Dr. Huan Xia, came up with this patented process to use revolutionary technology to get that actual muscle texture out of it. ... Chunk, and Impossible's steak, they all break apart in a very different way."

Per 40 oz serving, Alchemeat matches Beyond with 20 grams of protein, but with 133 calories versus Beyond's 230. Alchemeat also has 4 percent saturated fat, compared to animal steak which has 38 percent fat. Beyond has 25 percent fat, while Impossible has 40 percent, according to a chart from Alchemeat.

"I think the thing that differentiates us is we're appealing more to the meat-loving market, that already knows 'ok, we need to eat more plant-based, but I'm not ready to give up the food I want,'" Downing adds.

Yo Egg, created by Yo Foods Inc., is another vegan plant-based egg substitute—but differentiates itself by claiming to be the world's first plant-based poached egg made for yolk lovers.

"We're the first in the world to have a poppable yolk," notes Shige Toyoguchi of Yo Egg.

Founded in Israel, Yo Egg was created by Chef Yosefa Ben Cohen. The North Hollywood, California-based company is on a mission to become the largest and most sustainable egg producer in the world, without the use of chickens. The product can be used in an Eggs Benedict, on top of ramen, or sunny-side up eggs for Sunday brunch. "Yo Egg has the texture, flavor, and glorious runny yolks to make it all possible," it touts.

Yo Egg is made from soy protein, chickpea protein, potato starch, yeast, seaweed extract, paprika extract, and salt, among other ingredients. A case includes 48 Yo Eggs, which are non-GMO, gluten-free, and cholesterol-free. It offers a cruelty-free alternative to conventional eggs while replicating the unique texture and versatility in cooking and baking applications.

Plant-based chicken from Plantspired provides a non-breaded, muscle-meat texture similar to white breast meet. With 23 grams of plant protein and zero fat, the product is made from soy protein and pea starch, and is lightly seasoned.

The company's Asian-inspired, plant-based steak strips are Bulgogi seasoned and have a texture similar to a medium sliced steak, and are charcoal grilled and ready to use. The product has a guaranteed shelf life of 120 days frozen, and has 15 grams of protein per serving.

New Wave Shrimp can be sautéed, grilled, breaded, baked or fried, and is made with sustainably sourced seaweed extract and mung bean protein. Available as breaded or unbreaded, the product has fewer calories than ocean shrimp with zero cholesterol, and it doesn't pose any shellfish allergen risk.

"You will find New Wave Shrimp coming soon to restaurants near you," New Wave's website says. "And when you do—you’ll be able to enjoy it in a lot of different ways—all the ways you enjoy ocean shrimp. You’ll find New Wave Shrimp appetizers and entrées. Shrimp favorites like garlic butter sautéed shrimp linguini, honey chipotle shrimp tacos, shrimp chowder, and breaded shrimp baskets. So, keep your eye out—we’ll be appearing on more and more restaurant menus this year.

Made from 95 percent mushroom root—"AKA the energy source Mother Nature intended"—Eat Meati offers plant-based chicken cutlets in classic and crispy forms, plus classic or Carne asada-style steaks. Mushroom root is the first ingredient listed on each product, followed by others such as oat fiber, chickpea flour, and in the Carne asada version, paprika, dehydrated onion, cilantro, olive oil, and oregano.

But what is mushroom root? Apparently also called mycelium, it's a fibrous, root-like network that grows underground. Founded in 2017 and based in Boulder, Colorado, Eat Meati contains 33 percent daily value (DV) of protein, 35 percent DV of Vitamin B9/folate, 29 percent DV of fiber, and 45 percent DV of zinc.

Eat Meati is sold in Birdcall, a Colorado fried chicken eatery, and in January, the company opened its first large-scale facility—called The Mega Ranch—which will produce tens of millions of pounds of mushroom root.

OmniFoods, a member of Green Monday Holdings, is a foodtech company dedicated to revolutionizing food production for the benefit of the planet, animals, and humans. At the NRA Show this year, Omni was serving samples of its Beef Wellington, as well as its Mapo Tofu sauce and Italian-braised OMNI beef wrap.

With a team of accomplished food scientists in Canada, OmniFoods creates innovative food inspired by Asian cuisine and cooking practices, with a focus on developing cruelty-free, cholesterol-free, antibiotic-free, and hormone-free ingredients. Building upon the success of the OmniPork line in 2018, the company expanded its offerings in 2020 with OmniPork Luncheon and OmniPork Strip. In 2021, Omni introduced its OmniSeafood series, including Omni Classic Fillet, Omni Golden Fillet, Omni Ocean Burger, and OmniTuna, marking its entry into the plant-based fish market.

Starting June 6, OMNI's plant-based menu will be available at Starbucks stores in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, including plant-based Korean wraps, plant-based tuna melt croissants, plant-based spinach strips pasta, and more. "We are thrilled to be part of Starbucks Vietnam's journey to provide healthier and sustainable food options to their customers," OmniFoods posted on its LinkedIn.

Chicago-based TiNDLE Foods describes its plant-based chicken as "a taste rollercoaster that satisfies every meat lover's cravings," and is available at multiple restaurants across the U.S. in California, New York, Miami, and Philadelphia, as well as in the U.K. TiNDLE is the first product made by Next Gen Foods, and is also available on online marketplace Goldbelly.

Made with only nine ingredients, TiNDLE contains soy protein, wheat gluten, wheat starch, coconut oil, oat fiber, water, methylcellulose (a plant-based egg white), and Lipi, the company's unique blend of plant-based fats and flavor that gives TiNDLE its distinctive aroma, taste, and cookability of chicken.

At the NRA Show this year, the company sampled TiNDLE boneless wings, nuggets, sausage, tenders, and sandwich patties, plus unveiled its latest menu innovation, TiNDLE TrueCut—the first of its kind in the whole muscle-meat category. "This pioneering approach to plant-based chicken will offer unparalleled taste, texture, and mouthfeel—delivering what food lovers crave from a whole cut of chicken," the company posted on LinkedIn.

JUST Egg separated the egg from the bird "to end the unsustainable mass production of one of the world's most common foods." Its a product of San Francisco, California-based Eat Just, which was founded in 2011 by Josh Tetrick and Josh Balk. The vegan plant-based egg product resembles real liquid eggs with its golden color, is sold at most major supermarkets, and is on the menu at a number of restaurants.

JUST Egg is made from mung bean protein isolate, canola oil, dehydrated garlic and onion, carrot and turmeric extracts, and salt. Per serving, one JUST Egg offers 5 grams of protein, 170 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of fat, 70 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrate, and no sugar or cholesterol. A large egg from a chicken, on the other hand, has 207 milligrams of cholesterol. And from a sustainability perspective, the company estimates that it takes 98 percent less water and 83 percent less land to produce JUST Egg.