It’s seafood but it doesn’t involve fishnets or the sea, with plant-based fish fillet burgers, smoked salmon and shrimp the next big thing in alternative protein.
Dubbed fake fish, a slew of new products are hitting the market as new manufacturing techniques produce realistic shrimp from peas and flaky fish fillets from jackfruit.
Analysts describe the alternative seafood scene as “hot” as companies, spurred by booming sales of plant milks and meat alternatives, invest in the region. The focus on fish alternatives has also increased due to heightened consumer concern over overfishing, which was spurred by the popular Netflix documentary Seaspiracy.
Tesco, which works with American chef and self-proclaimed ‘plant pusher’ Derek Sarno, is set to expand its plant-based range with a handful of new products, including Thai-style fish cakes and crab cakes to New England.
Dutch brand Vegan Zeastar threw down the gauntlet with its ambition to “veganise all fish dishes to fight the destruction of our oceans”. Its latest product is the smoked “Zalmon”, made from tapioca starch, which looks suspiciously like the real thing and is expected to go on sale early next year. His Shrimpz and Kalamariz are stored online in particular by Ocado.
That the food industry takes the region seriously was underscored by this month’s launch of Vrimp by Nestlé. Made from seaweed and peas, they promise “the authentic texture and flavor of succulent shrimp”, with the look-alike created using special molds with a fine seam on the body the only giveaway.
Nestlé, the world’s largest food group, has 300 people working on plant-based foods. Mark Schneider, its chief executive, said there had been a “significant shift” towards plant-based eating across all age groups.
“It’s not just a one-season fad,” Schneider said. “It’s something that has very solid long-term growth rates.” He said people are interested in plant-based foods for different reasons. “With fish it’s more about health, and with beef and chicken it’s more about the environment,” he said.
For Brits trying to reduce their environmental footprint, eating plant-based foods is becoming more palatable because meat and dairy alternatives are so good today, according to Schneider. Ahead of the Cop26 climate summit, he said consumer behavior was a “big part of the equation” because making choices that reduced their carbon footprint was “easier than trying to remove carbon from products. existing ones that we consume”.
To date, much more time and money has gone into creating plant-based burgers and nuggets because the markets are so much bigger for beef and chicken. Another factor is that restaurants account for a large share of fish and seafood sales. In restaurants, taste and experience were more important, which made it more difficult to equal alternatives, said Thijs Geijer, Senior Economist at ING.
Geijer said the wide variety of fish tastes and textures meant companies had to “invent the wheel” for a wide range of products, with some of them – mostly startups – focusing on tuna, which is sold in large quantities in supermarkets. Nonetheless, the category was “hot,” he said.
Sarno, who co-founded Wicked Kitchen and Good Catch and now leads plant-based innovation at Tesco, believes alternative seafood can be just as good as the real thing. Many seafood products have been blended, coated and baked or fried and have been “easily made plant-based without compromise,” he said. Tesco’s newly stocked products, which include Quorn fish free fingers and a fish burger, would be bargain priced, he said, and therefore offer customers ‘easy exchanges’.
On Friday and Saturday, the first Plant Based World Europe fair was held in London. It was the first trade event of its kind in Europe and more than 100 companies took part. Jennifer Pardoe, a member of the steering committee who is also a co-founder of Jack & Bry, which developed the fish burgers sold in the Lewis Hamilton-backed Neat Burger chain, said fish was an exciting area because consumption was not sustainable, with the problem presented to young people this year by Seaspiracy.
For fake fish to really take off, Pardoe said it needed to be on the menus of fast-food chains and high-profile restaurants so consumers could try it first, paving the way for supermarket sales. . Taste would win out, she said. “You need to make sure the flavor of the fish tastes authentic, if there are any off notes, or it tastes fake, people will call it.”
Fake fish of the day
Vrimp – a plant-based version of prawns (or prawns depending on where you live) is Nestlé’s latest top-tier offering. Made from seaweed, peas and konjac root and shaped using specialized moulds, it is first tested in its native Switzerland.
Fillet without fish – British brand Jack & Bry has created the £8 fishless burger sold at vegan chain Neat Burger backed by Lewis Hamilton. It mimics the taste of cod but is made from jackfruit marinated in seaweed.
Vuna – Tuna is another member of the most consumed “big five” in the UK. Nestlé launched Vuna, made from pea and wheat protein, last year, but it is not yet on sale in the UK. You can buy “tuna-style flakes” at Good Catch, and unMEAT-brand canned tuna is also coming.
Smoked Zalmon – Dutch Vegan brand Zeastar is set to add smoked Zalmon to a range that already includes Shrimpz, Kalamariz and Codd. This realistic take on the premium treat is made with tapioca starch, flaxseed and canola oil, and “lots of plant-based love.”