Carolina Schneider, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian and writer specializing in plant-based consumer packaged goods. Carolina attended Expo West 2023 and is here to share her insights on companies offering better-for-you products that are making a difference.
The plant-based food and beverage industry has seen exponential growth in recent years, driven by consumer demand for healthier, more sustainable food options. However, as the industry grows, many companies have turned to artificial and highly processed ingredients to create more realistic meat and dairy alternatives, many of which are created in a lab, moving away from using real, wholesome foods.
While consumers appreciate having options, they are learning that it’s not enough for a product to be plant-based; it needs to be good for humans and good for the planet. I went on a mission to find companies that are committed to using simple, nutrient-dense ingredients while also adopting sustainable practices to improve our ecosystem and benefit local communities:
Amäzi Foods is creating better-for-you tropical fruit snacks made simply from fruits and spices, ethically sourced and produced in partnership with small businesses in Uganda. Renee Dunn, founder and CEO, is committed to building a sustainable, equitable supply chain. “We source directly from farmers and focus on keeping the supply chain hyperlocal by producing as close to the source as possible,” she shared. By doing this, Amäzi is creating opportunities for farmers to sell their produce on global markets, local jobs at their partnering production facility, and reducing food waste while bringing flavor-rich snacks to shelves in the U.S. Made from jackfruit, pineapple, and plantains, the snacks are highly nutritious and wholesome, bursting with bold flavors as they're able to produce all fruits at peak ripeness, right at the source!
Blue Stripes is on a mission to reduce food waste by upcycling cacao fruit while creating delicious chocolate products made with real and minimal ingredients. The company’s founder and CEO, Oded Brenner, shared that “70% of the cacao fruit is wasted” in the chocolate industry. “Consuming the whole cacao, the shell, the fruit, and the beans is not only good for human health but also good for farmers and the planet,” he added.
Brenner works directly with farmers to develop innovative methods for upcycling the cacao fruit and incorporating all its parts into products such as granola, chocolate bars, cacao snacks, and cacao water. Blue Stripes recognizes that cacao has many valuable components beyond the beans traditionally used for chocolate, all of which have many health benefits but are often discarded during processing. The company strives to educate consumers while creating delicious, high-quality products that also promote sustainability and ethical practices in the cacao industry.
Another upcycling success story is Caju Love, which has saved 105,000 cashew fruits from ending in landfills. Originally from Brazil, Alana Lima, co-founder of Caju Love, shared that she came up with the idea of “cashew meat” after stumbling upon a cashew tree and testing with the fruit in her kitchen. In Brazil, cashews and cashew juice are popular items, but the actual fruit and fiber are discarded, “about 2.2 million tons of cashew fruit are wasted every year, in Brazil alone,” said Lima. This zero-waste, single-ingredient product functions as a great plant-based meat substitute while supporting the planet.
Voted the best coconut water by multiple sources, Harmless Harvest was the first to launch non-thermally pasteurized coconut water, which in turn better preserves the nutrients and refreshing flavor from the fruit. Living up to its name, the company is committed to minimizing harm to the planet and across its supply chain. “Sustainability is foundational to who we are,” said Ben Mand, CEO.
“I believe businesses can be a force for good, and we strive to have a positive impact on environmental and social issues,” Mand added. He shared that about 25% of their farms have incorporated regenerative organic practices, including nitrogen-fixing carbon crops, bee colonies, intercropping, composting, and building greater biodiversity. “Our goal is to transition at least 50% of our farms by the end of this year, and to reduce our greenhouse gas emission in half by 2025,” he said.
Founded almost 30 years ago, Lotus Foods is changing how rice is grown by leading the way in organic and regenerative rice farming practices. Known for its high-quality, minimal-ingredient organic rice and rice noodles, Lotus Foods was a pioneer in the sustainable agriculture industry and now meets the highest standards when it comes to regenerative practices.
“We were really proud to be part of the Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) pilot,” said Jake Ellerbrock, Director of Marketing. The company, which received the first ROC rice certification, follows the three pillars of soil health, animal welfare, and social fairness. “While sustainability means sustaining the land, regenerative means improving the land, and it’s a proactive approach to heal the land,” he added.
NuttZo is a perfect example of a company with nutrition at its core. With seven types of nuts and seeds, NuttZo offers nutrient-rich nut and seed butters and bars made from almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and flax seeds.“When you use high-quality ingredients, you don’t need to add oils or refined sugars,” shared Danielle LiVolsi, founder and CEO. “We use the highest quality of ingredients with the least amount of ingredients so that future generations can continue to trust and benefit from our products.”
Beyond creating a nutritious product, LiVolsi is committed to helping children around the world. After adopting her two sons from Ukraine, she created Project Left Behind, an organization that provides support to underprivileged children in Peru through education, nutrition, and healthcare. “Every year, we take a group of women to Peru to volunteer and help support these families,” shared LiVolsi, who is working hands-on to improve the lives of children and communities in need.
Planet Based Foods is on a mission to make hemp a staple ingredient to improve the health of the planet and the health of the people. Different from most alternative meats, Planet Based Foods creates meat alternatives from real foods such as organic hemp seeds, pea protein, brown rice, and spices. A nutrient powerhouse, hemp is a complete protein and one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids in plants that also provides fiber, vitamins and minerals.
“We chose hemp because of its regenerative qualities,” said Braelyn Davis, co-founder and CEO. “When grown as a rotation crop, hemp restores the nutrients in the soil that has been depleted by monoculture, helping to reverse soil erosion.” According to Davis, hemp is highly effective in sequestering carbon and requires less water to grow than most crops. At Expo West, Planet Based Foods introduced its new line of products, hemp-based ice cream, which provide between 6 and 9 grams of protein.
With nutrition at its forefront, Purely Elizabeth prioritizes real, nutrient-dense ingredients, such as organic oats, dried fruits, whole grains, and seeds. “I always come back to what is fundamentally true: going back to basics, focusing on the most nutrient-rich ingredients,” said Elizabeth Stein, founder and CEO. Exciting additions to the company’s portfolio include cereals and berry granola fortified with plant-based vitamin D, a nutrient that about 42% of Americans are deficient in.
The company, which is highly committed to building more sustainable food systems, was one of the early adopters of the B-Corp certification. “As a business, we have the obligation to do the right thing,” said Stein, who is partnering with Mad Agriculture to implement regenerative practices on two farms. The company is sponsoring the research and testing of the soil to validate the impact of these practices on the land. “Regenerative agriculture is greatly connected to our brand’s mission. We believe the health of the soil equals the health of the people,” added Stein. Purely Elizabeth will source regenerative organic certified coconut oil and coconut sugar, which will be added to its new value-size granola and available exclusively at Whole Foods in May.
Good nutrition is simple: Eat real foods in their whole form, and prioritize plants. Yet, for some reason, we have overcomplicated nutrition. Most of the foods consumed in the U.S. are far from their whole, original form. Luckily, many food companies still live by the “less is more” approach and are sticking to the basics: using wholesome plant-based ingredients to create highly nutritious, actually good-for-you products.
Let’s face it: We’re in a crisis. The climate, the soil, the animals, and underprivileged communities are suffering from the impacts of a developing world that takes and takes but doesn’t always give back. Fortunately, there are companies out there who have made “giving back” their mission. By adopting regenerative organic practices, working with underserved communities and local farmers, reducing food waste, or partnering with charitable organizations, they are making the world a better place, one bite at a time.
These companies are leading the way in the plant-based food industry, providing consumers with a range of delicious and nutritious options that are good for both people and the planet. As consumers, we have the opportunity to support these mission-driven brands while nourishing our bodies with real, delicious foods.
NOTE: WholeFoods Magazine is a business-to-business publication. Information on this site should not be considered medical advice or a way to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. Always seek the advice of a medical professional before making lifestyle changes, including taking a dietary supplement. The opinions expressed by contributors and experts quoted in articles are not necessarily those of the publisher or editors of WholeFoods.