Plant-Based Treats Take Center Stage at Summer Shows

CHICAGO  Vegan indulgences are a hot trend this summer. Here are a few featured products and award winners from the Sweets & Snacks Expo and NRA Show.

Vegan Chocolates at Sweets & Snacks Expo

Plant-based milk continues to gain share of the U.S. milk category as consumers seek out alt-milk for health, environmental, or animal welfare reasons. Chocolate makers have noticed the rising demand for plant-based milk alternatives in the dairy aisle and are launching numerous chocolate products that don’t contain dairy.

The Hershey Company introduced Hershey’s Plant Based Extra Creamy with Almonds and Sea Salt and Reese’s Plant Based Peanut Butter Cups. Both Hershey products are made with oat chocolate and are said to provide a “melt-in-your-mouth” experience as well, being certified vegan. The Hershey’s and Reese’s Plant Based Products are for vegans, people who want plant-based alternatives, and people who can’t have dairy but want to enjoy the classic Hershey’s or Reese’s experience, according to Allison Mason, associate manager of corporate communications for The Hershey Company.

A number of other chocolate makers featured oat milk-based chocolate products at the Sweets & Snacks Expo. RED Chocolate introduced its RED 100% Vegan Orange and Almond Chocolate Bar made with vegan oat milk. The RED 100% Vegan Bar is no sugar added, kosher, and keto-friendly.

TCHO became a 100% dairy-free chocolate company in late 2022. TCHO showed its new TCHO Fair Squares in 60-count boxes in Globe Trotter (assorted single-origin dark chocolates) and in OATALLY AWESOME Toffee Time [oat milk with toffee & sea salt] and Oat My Gawd [oat milk chocolate].

7th Heaven Chocolate introduced its line of kosher-certified chocolate bars made with oat milk. Flavors include caramel & salt, peanut butter cream, classic milk chocolate, hazelnut cream, and white & cookies.

Ritter’s new Ritter Sport Vegan range includes new Roasted Peanut and Salted Caramel flavors to the existing Crunchy Whole Hazelnuts, Smooth Chocolate, and Crunchy Almonds.

OCHO Candy introduced four plant-based caramels featuring Miyoko’s Creamery European-Style Cultured Vegan Butter. The plant-based caramels are certified Organic and Fair Trade. The line includes Classic, Cinnamon, Coffee, and Chocolate flavored caramel in a dark chocolate shell.

SmartSweets also introduced a plant-based caramel. The caramels are made with no added sugar alcohols, sugar, or artificial sweeteners, and contain 1 gram of sugar per bag.

Frozen Dairy at the NRA Summer Show

Plant-based treats were also a feature at the National Restaurant Association’s Summer show, which featured exhibitors like precision fermentation dairy producer, Perfect Day.

Oatly won a FABI Award for its Soft Serve that is said to provide a cold, creamy texture and smooth vanilla flavor. The product is designed to be used in all types of electric soft serve dispensing machines.

NotCo started a test with Shake Shack in 2022 with a proprietary NotCustard created for the restaurant chain. Following the test, Shake Shack launched its Non-Dairy Chocolate Frozen Custard and Non-Dairy Chocolate Shake (a mixture of the custard and NotMilk) in May.

The food-tech company uses a proprietary artificial intelligence technology, called Giuseppe, which matches the taste, texture, and smell of animal-based products by analyzing the structure at a molecular level and then finding their ideal replacements among thousands of plant-based ingredients.

Beth Lawrence, VP strategic partnerships at NotCo US, told The Food Institute that NotCo can “bring the whole solution, as our products have broad menu application – dairy, ice cream, frozen custard, protein (chicken and burgers).”

Virginia Lee is a food & beverages trendspotter and market research analyst. She has advised companies on innovation and market entry opportunities in consumer packaged goods at Euromonitor International, Innova Market Insights, and Brightfield Group. Connect with Virginia on Twitter and Instagram at @VirginiaALee.