Fake fish is becoming the next big thing in alternative protein.
The popularity of alternative meat has skyrocketed in recent years as consumers have begun to change what they eat for a variety of reasons, ranging from concerns about climate change and sustainability to animal welfare and health benefits. personal health.
This has led to a proliferation of products from companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat in grocery stores and restaurants, while traditional meat companies like Tyson Foods, Perdue Farms and Hormel are launching new entrants into the category.
Retail sales of plant-based foods in the United States increased 27% in 2020, bringing the total market to around $7 billion, according to data from the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA) and the Good Food Institute (GFI). The global market is expected to reach $450 billion by 2040, according to consultancy Kearney, which would represent about a quarter of the wider meat market of $1.8 trillion.
The plant-based market was largely driven by fake milk and meat, which account for 35% and 20% of the category’s total sales, respectively, according to GFI. Plant-based meat sales increased 45% to $1.4 billion in 2020, while plant-based milk sales increased 20% to $2.5 billion.
The plant-based fish market, on the other hand, has been slower to develop. While U.S. sales rose 23% in 2020, they were only $12 million, according to GFI and PBFA. This represents 0.1% of the entire US seafood market, compared to plant-based meat sales which account for 1.4% of US meat sales.
“Conventional seafood really does have a health halo around it; it’s considered a very healthy food that doctors often tell patients to eat more of,” said Marika Azoff, corporate engagement specialist at GFI, explaining why alternative fish products may have fallen behind. “The environmental impacts aren’t as simple as they are with beef and dairy – they’re a bit more complex and a bit harder for the general public to grasp.”
Invest in fake fish
However, several companies are looking to change that in a bid to take a slice of the more than $15 billion U.S. seafood market.
According to GFI, 83 companies worldwide produced alternative seafood products as of June 2021, 65 of which focused on plant-based products. In comparison, there were only 29 companies producing alternative seafood products in 2017.
In 2020, more than $80 million was invested in alternative seafood businesses, four times the amount invested in 2019, according to GFI.
BlueNalu’s Whole Cell & Muscle Yellowtail Amberjack.
Gathered Foods, which produces plant-based seafood brand Good Catch, raised $32 million in Series B funding in January 2020 from investors including Lightlife Foods parent Greenleaf Foods and 301 Inc. ., the venture capital arm of General Mills.
BlueNalu, which focuses on cultured seafood or fish produced directly from cells, raised $60 million in convertible note funding in January 2021, a record deal for an alternative seafood company.
To date, the two giants of alternative meat products have not yet entered the alternative fish market. Impossible Foods said in 2019 that it was working on a plant-based fish recipe, but hasn’t released any products yet. Beyond Meat has previously said it focuses on beef, poultry and pork.
“There’s no reason why alternative seafood can’t or won’t catch up with other types of alternative protein,” Azoff said. “There is no dominant company in plant-based seafood like there is in the meat and dairy categories, but we see potential for that to change soon.”
Traditional seafood companies are also investing in alternative fish.
In September 2020, Nestlé launched Vuna, a plant-based tuna alternative that is the company’s first foray into plant-based seafood, citing statistics that 90% of global fish stocks are now dead. exhausted or close to exhaustion.
Thai Union Group, which owns brands like Chicken of the Sea, said it would launch a plant-based shrimp product by the end of this year, joining its other fish and crab products. herbal remedies already available.
Tyson Ventures, the venture capital arm of Tyson Foods, invested in plant-based shellfish company New Wave Foods in September 2019 and joined its $18 million Series A funding round which closed. in January. Bumble Bee Foods signed a joint venture with Good Catch in March 2020.
Growing concerns over the fishing industry
Virginia-based Van Cleve Seafood Company, which sold traditional seafood for more than 20 years, began producing only plant-based seafood under The Plant Based Seafood Co. label, citing concerns with the fishing industry such as child labor, overfishing and mislabelling. .
“We wanted to do something about it, and we thought if it wasn’t us, then who?” Plant Based Seafood Co. CEO Monica Talbert told CNBC’s Kate Rogers. “That’s when we made the decision, we were going to do something that would create change.”
The Plant Based Seafood Co. offers products such as artichoke-based crab cakes, plant-based root starch scallops and shrimp, all of which are sold online.
Concerns about the fishing industry, further highlighted in Netflix’s recent documentary ‘Seaspriacy’ advocating an end to fish consumption, are seen as a factor pushing consumers to switch to plant-based products. A survey of 2,500 Americans by Kelton Global found that reducing plastic waste in the ocean, saving ocean habitats and reducing harm to marine animals would be reasons consumers buy fish made from plants rather than wild fish.
Gavin Gibbons, vice president of communications at the National Fisheries Institute, a trade group representing the fishing industry, said the organization and its member companies view plant-based products as “a very likely part of the future of feeding a growing planet”.
“They’re technologically impressive and can and should be able to co-exist with real seafood, as long as they’re labeled accurately,” Gibbons said, noting that some of NFI’s member companies have invested in alternative seafood.
However, Gibbons said, presenting alternative seafood products as being nutritionally superior to real fish or better for sustainability reasons would be a mistake in his view.
“USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlight that consumers are not eating enough seafood and it is arguably the healthiest animal protein on the planet,” he said. “Few public health professionals would recommend imitation seafood over real products. They might make this recommendation for other products, but not for seafood. of plants are not really alternatives, they are simply imitations.”
Gibbons said 51% of seafood consumers eat are farmed and around 75% of commercially important marine fish stocks, as reported and monitored by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. , are fished at biologically sustainable levels.
“There’s a lot of hyperbole associated with empty ocean claims and if that’s used to market knock-off products, that’s dishonest,” Gibbons said.
There is one big hurdle that could stand in the way of fake fish: taste.
While 43% of respondents to this Kelton survey said they would consider purchasing seafood alternatives in the future and most cited flavor as the most important factor in consumption, 38% said they anticipated disliking the taste of alternative fish and 27% said they anticipated disliking the texture. Twenty-seven percent said they had never seen plant-based seafood in a grocery store.
“First and foremost, consumers will buy alternative seafood if it tastes good,” Azoff said.