Energetic Plant Based World Expo 2023 Showcases Successful Quality Over Quantity Strategy
Reflecting a rapidly growing industry projecting no sign of slowing down any time soon, Plant Based World Expo (PBW) North America returned to the Javits Center in New York City for its annual edition, held Sept. 7-8. This year’s PBW attracted 3,168 attendees, including an uptick in qualified retail and food service buyers compared to years prior and approximately 200 exhibiting companies showcasing hundreds of new plant-based food brands across 25,000 square feet of exhibit space.
Touted as North America’s only 100% plant-based trade show and conference designed exclusively for food service and retail professionals, distributors, investors and manufacturers, PBW’s fourth edition preceded the release of a recent study conducted by Ernst & Young projecting substantial global growth in plant-based protein sales by 2035. According to the report, global plant-based meat sales are anticipated to soar from $16.5 billion in 2021 to $139.4 billion by 2035, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.5%.
As the official trade show of the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA), the annual event combines a targeted educational conference with an expansive expo showcasing hundreds of innovative plant-based food products and brands from around the world, along with plentiful tasting and networking opportunities.
Attendees had the chance to sample new plant-based products, hear from knowledgeable and inspiring speakers and attend exclusive networking opportunities, while exhibitors from global companies showcased plant-based products, handed out samples, met with buyers and kept the showfloor buzzing for two days.
“The positive energy and excitement was palpable from the minute the show floor opened,” said Ben Davis, PBW content chair and strategic advisor. “We’ve gotten fantastic feedback from buyers, exhibitors and sponsors. Overall, exhibitor satisfaction has increased, and more than 50% of exhibit space has already been reserved for the 2024 show.”
While the show’s attendance and size were down from last year, when 3,722 attendees and 232 exhibitors spanned 33,000 square feet of expo space, Joel Davis, founder and CEO of JD Events, which produces the show, explained that the dip had to do with audience dissatisfaction with the buyer vs. non-buyer mix in 2022, which was improved dramatically in 2023 via a highly effective quality-over-quantity strategy.
“In past years, PBW was open to all stakeholders in the plant-based movement, including influencers, suppliers, consultants, etc.,” Joel Davis said. “Based on exhibitor preferences in 2023, we focused on delivering more of the core audience of retail and foodservice buyers and less of the non-buyer categories.”
He continued, “We denied somewhere between 500-1,000 non-buyer attendees who would’ve been allowed to attend in prior years and grew the core buyers, thereby doubling the percentage of retail and foodservice buyers for exhibitors to meet on the floor and improving exhibitor ROI.”
On a bustling showfloor, exhibitors and buyers expressed enthusiasm about their experiences, citing positive interactions and the impressive array of innovative product discovery opportunities.
“The quality of the people we talked with this year has been exceptional – they are decision-makers and stakeholders,” said Exhibitor Henrik Lund, CEO of Naturli` Foods. “I loved the Hosted Buyer Lounge, where PBW arranged meetings with the exhibitors and buyers. PBW is one of the best places to showcase plant-based products.”
Food trends seen on the expo floor included:
- Healthier plant-based snacks and prepared foods using sustainable ingredients such as hemp, jackfruit, acai, algae and seaweed.
- Global culinary creativity and chef-crafted products from countries including Italy, Brazil, Denmark, Peru, France, the UK, Thailand, Australia and Canada. Products included plant-based cheese with truffles from Italy, plant-based croissants from France and organic certified and vegan Dutch stroopwafels.
- More collaborations and training opportunities between food service institutions, chefs and product manufacturers.
- Mushroom-based meats, snacks and jerky from MyForest Foods, Green Wolf Foods, Popadelics and Myco Technology.
- New plant-based seafood products from companies such as BeLeaf, Jinka and Mind Blown Seafood.
Connecting the community
Many exhibitors and buyers said they were pleased with the expanded one-to-one meeting opportunities via the Hosted Buyer Program and the Food Export International Buyers Mission, which allowed for more meaningful and valuable conversations between buyers and sellers. Combined, the two programs resulted in approximately 400 meetings between 40 key buyers and 100 exhibitors over three full days, according to show officials.
“Our focus this year was to deepen our relationships within the buying community, to grow the buyer audience and to facilitate real meaningful connections between buyers and sellers at the show,” Joel Davis said.
He continued, “Also new [this year was] the growth of international country pavilions on the expo floor. Whereas in 2022 we had only one pavilion from Italy, in 2023 we had pavilions from Italy, Brazil, Denmark and Thailand along with growth in participation from many other countries including Peru, the U.K., Canada and more. We expect these and more countries to organize pavilions in 2024. The international growth is very exciting and has great potential.”
Plant Based World Expo will return to Javits Center Sept. 11-12, 2024.