I’ve attended the Sweets and Snacks Expo as an exhibitor a few times, but it’s a whole different world when the press pass goes on. Last year I went with a mission to find at least five really great new vegan products, and I did. (Check out last year’s post and finds here.)
This year I didn’t find as many new products – although I did find a handful, and some new flavors from old favorites. So I thought I’d mention a few throughout this post, which will focus on some trends I spotted instead.
1. All of the Beans
Just like last year, there were a ton of new snack lines (and additions to not-so-new-lines) featuring chickpeas, lentils, peas, and other legumes as the main ingredient. As someone who works for a quinoa-based snack brand, alternative proteins are something I clearly embrace.
These little nuggets showed up in everything from Peatos, a Cheeto challenger made with a combination of pea and lentil protein, to chocolate-covered chickpeas by Lebby.
I should note – the booth staff for Lebby didn’t seem to know much about the ingredients, explaining that they are co-packed in Turkey. I was curious how they got them so shiny without using confectioner’s glaze, which is not vegan, and didn’t see an ingredient on their list that could be used as a glaze. I found the booth for the confectionery that actually helped us develop a non-GMO vegan glaze for our chocolate products, and they told me they also did not think any of those ingredients could be used as a glaze, and cautioned me that it seemed like this brand was using a non-vegan glaze and not disclosing it. I have contacted Lebby to clarify this, and not received a response.
2. Refusing to Say the Word “Vegan”
So, that Lebby possible shadiness brings me to another trend. Last year I spoke with the folks at Little Secrets about why they don’t label their vegan-friendly products as “vegan.” Short answer? Because vegans. Basically, they have not certified that their sugar is vegan-friendly, and they received so many inquiries about it that they decided not to call their dark chocolate products vegan as a result. In fact, when I posted that I’d tasted them, I received many DMs from vegans warning me about the sugar.
I found this really interesting, as vegans have also collectively decided that Oreos are vegan-friendly, but as far as I know, there is no evidence that they have been transparent about the source of their sugar. (And don’t get me started about palm oil.)
This was frustrating, to say the least, as booth after booth I would ask if they had any vegan-friendly items and 9 out of 10 vendors would dance around the topic, replying that the ingredients are “plant-based,” or in one case, telling me “that depends on how vegan you are.”
That’s why I was so relieved when I found booths like Bixby & Co., Vegan Rob’s and Dandies, where items were labels “vegan” and the booth staff knew exactly what that meant, and that there’s no such thing as “depends on how vegan you are.”
3. So Puffy
Everything – everything was a puff. Every grain, every legume, even cheese was puffed. Again, as someone who works for a brand that sells quinoa puffs I am pro-this trend. I did notice that a lot of them were opting for whey protein as opposed to something both allergen and vegan-friendly like pea protein, and many of them have a corn base, like Cheetos. Corn puffs up light and airy, like Pirate’s Booty, but it doesn’t add much nutritionally. I hope to see more brands (like ours) using nutrient-dense, plant-based ingredients for their puffs since this trend only seems to be growing.
4. Uh, Is it Me?
I had a few bummer experiences with brands this year – either because they didn’t really know their ingredients, didn’t know what vegan meant, or because they just didn’t feel like talking me to. Yes, I have a lot of tattoos, but I also have eight years of CPG experience with some pretty heavy-hitting brands, I dress cute, I am courteous, and I attend the show with the genuine intention of finding and promoting vegan products (which is a long way of saying, I’m not there for the samples – in fact, I refuse most samples because I don’t want a bunch of crap in my house).
It was especially a bummer when the brands’ PR teams had spent weeks convincing me to go check them out and then the activation team had zero interest in answering my questions with more than 1-2 word replies. I get it, those are long days, but I’ve worked those long days and I never miss an opportunity to talk about my amazing brand.
Case in point? Good Day Chocolate. I’ve always passed these by in the store because they’re made with confectioner’s glaze, which is made from beetles, and the ones I picked up were always made with dairy. So when the PR person reached out a took a shot in the dark and asked about vegan options and she replied warmly with a list of the vegan-friendly dark chocolates.
When I walked up to the booth, the first person I spoke with refused to use the word “vegan,” instead directing me to the dark chocolates “made without dairy,” as she put it. I picked up a package and flipped it over, surprised to find that the confectioner’s glaze had been replaced with vegan-friendly Carnauba Wax. I would have asked more, but it was clear that this person had no interest in speaking about vegan products so I waited until another person at the other end of the table was free.
I asked her the same question about vegan options, and received the same response – that the dark chocolate was dairy-free. There was a pause, and then she offered me a box of the Probiotic chocolate, saying it was the most popular dairy-free one. I worked for a huge kefir brand for several years and know that there are dairy-based and non-dairy-based probiotic strains, and would have loved to ask more about it, in addition to finding out when they switched to Carnauba Wax, but again, this person turned away from me and I was left with a really salty feeling about the whole brand.
Despite this experience, I posted a picture of the booth in my Story and, of course, received tons of DMs from people warning me about confectioner’s glaze. I would have loved to tell them that the company officially switched over, but since no one could be bothered to speak with me, I didn’t. In fact, one person sent me a photo she took, because she was standing at check out in Whole Foods Market, showing me that confectioner’s glaze was listed on the package. I wish I could tell her when the Carnauba Wax products would be hitting the shelves but… oh well.
Meanwhile, a member of the Vegan Rob’s sales team saw me from across the room and came over to tell me to visit their booth. Real talk? I wasn’t going to go near that booth because they’re technically a competitor with my brand. But his enthusiasm convinced me, and I ended up trying their snacks and finding some I liked. Now I’m a fan, and I’ve been posting about them on Instagram. I don’t need every brand to throw me a parade, but word of advice? If someone is interested enough to ask you about the ingredients, take five seconds to chat with them.
5. Friggin Meat Snacks
It is SUPER easy to walk away from a show like the National Products Expo feeling like the whole world is finally catching on to the ethical, health, and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet. But, when you walk the floor of a show with conventional brands like Hershey’s mixed in with the avocado chips, you realize that vegans are still very much in a bubble. There were soooo many jerkys and meat bars thanks to the KETO craze (I guess everyone forgot Atkin’s was already a thing). But, on the upside, there were also a lot of vegan-friendly mushroom snacks, including Shroom Bars made with mushrooms and… lemon. I don’t know either, but I’d try it.
And now, for the vegan sweets & snacks:
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Thanks! I found your info really interesting, especially the less than stellar experiences with the activation teams. Do the PR people ever follow up with you? And I love that you were honest about “Vegan Rob’s” even though they are the competition. Much better than some of the basic reviews that are always glowing or way too long. They sometimes sound like a promotion of the products instead of an honest perspective.
Good question! Most of the time PR people do follow up, or they’re at the booth so they make sure you have what you need before you leave. I haven’t heard back from Good Day Chocolate – but that could be because I let them know on social media how disappointing that interaction was.