Meet the start-up making fishless canned tuna

Overfishing is a global concern. It is estimated that more than a third of the world’s fisheries are overexploited and that more than half are exploited at their maximum capacity.

In the EU, nearly half of marine habitats have been assessed as endangered or near threatened, mainly due to pollution, fishing and aquaculture.

At the same time, researchers expect the demand for seafood to double by 2050.

“It is more than obvious that something has to change” ​According to Nixe Zimmer, who, together with her brother Arvid Seeberg-Elverfeldt, is working to ease pressure on fish stocks with a vegan alternative to tuna.

Canned fishless tuna

Berlin-based start-up, EatMyPlants, is combining microalgae with fermentation technology to develop a range of fish-free seafood products, starting with a canned tuna product.

The duo were hesitant to say too much about their product’s formulation, but pointed out that microalgae are their “most important” and “main” ingredient, which they combine with plant proteins and other “natural” ingredients. .

“Our first product is a delicious canned tuna”, Zimmer said at ProVeg Incubator’s startup demo day last week, describing the product as “authentic.”

Co-founder Seeberg-Elverfeldt also suggested that the product’s resemblance to conventional tuna is what will help EatMyPlants stand out from the crowd.

A “number” of tuna substitutes can already be found on supermarket shelves and online, we were told. “But if you look at their degree of resemblance, i.e. how well these products imitate the real tuna, you will see that there is still a lot to be done in terms of taste, smell, color, mouthfeel and texture.”

EatMyPlants plans to first enter the market with an alternative to tuna in its “pure form”, before moving into the ready-to-eat and convenience markets with tuna-based products. Other references, such as tuna spreads, could also be an attractive option, Seeberg-Elverfeldt suggested.

Why microalgae?

EatMyPlants’ decision to work with microalgae was informed by three key factors: nutrition, sustainability and R&D potential.

The start-up was co-founded by siblings Nixe Zimmer and Arvid Seeberg-Elverfeldt in Berlin, Germany. Image credit: EatMyPlants

Regarding the nutritional and health qualities of microalgae, the ingredient is a “superior” source of protein – depending on the species, the protein content can vary from 20 to 70% – as well as a high fiber content. , minerals, vitamins and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

“At the same time, they are low in sodium and free of allergens and pollutants”, ​Zimmer told delegates.

From a sustainability perspective, the productivity of microalgae is not only “very efficient”, but the cultivation requires very little fresh water. “In fact, they can be grown anywhere”, Zimmer added.

“The most exciting factor for us, however, is the R&D potential. We are already using a strain of microalgae that is well suited to food applications. But it can still be improved in terms of nutritional profile – like protein content – ​​as well as sensory characteristics like taste, smell and color.

Research and development cycles can also be shortened by the growth rate of the organism. According to Zimmer, microalgae have a “huge” advantage over other crops with longer harvest cycles. Microalgae, she told us, can be harvested “at least 50 times” per year. “And short harvest cycles also mean short R&D cycles.”

Soft launch on the horizon

EatMyPlants sees the potential for alternative seafood to take market share in the conventional seafood market – which globally is worth around 200 billion euros.

“Our ambition should be to replace as much as possible,” ​said Seeberg-Elverfeldt. “Yet today we stand at only 1% substitution. Therefore, the growth rates for the coming years are very high and the market is expected to reach around 30 billion euros by 2035, and continue to grow from there.

Juanmonino tuna
EatMyPlants plans a full launch for 2023 “at the latest”. GettyImages/Juanmonino

EatMyPlants initially plans to enter the market through a soft launch at local restaurants and through fast delivery operators. A full-scale launch is slated for 2023 “at the latest”, when it also hopes to start expanding its product line.

In the medium term, the start-up wants to move into retail, which it says will be its main sales channel in the future.

As far as prices are concerned, the company wants to match other alternative products to tuna.

EatMyPlants also wants to “deepen” the biotech side of the business, which means it hopes to further optimize the strain of microalgae used in terms of nutritional and sensory profiles.

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