Consciously sourced, grass-fed meat and dairy products seemed to be everywhere at Natural Products Expo East 2016. But the special diet that kept appearing again and again was vegan. Rather than focus on the foods you can't eat—eggs, dairy, meat, seafood and often honey—these vegan products celebrate the bounty of nutrient-dense, plant-based foods. Here, beans, grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and spices boost traditionally maligned foods like meatless meatballs with flavor, texture and protein. Another example: while conventional dairy-free creamers are rife in chemicals and artificial flavors, the folks at Laird Superfood innovated to produce an effective, shelf-stable coconut product that melds seamlessly into coffee and tea.
It's tempting to pass these products off as items that cater to a niche demographic, as surveys conducted by New Hope Network's NEXT team found that only between 6 and 8 percent of U.S. consumers identify as vegan. But as people grow increasingly interested in products that don't contain cholesterol, don't contain possible allergens like dairy and are produced humanely, the audience for vegan food and beverages has skyrocketed—even if shoppers don't call themselves vegan eaters.Start slideshow