The next sustainable seafood revolution?


Earlier this month, a partnership to drive transformation in the European seafood industry was born. On one side of the partnership is Nomad Foods: Europe’s largest frozen food company, owner of brands such as Birds Eye, Findus and Iglo, and maker of hugely popular fish sticks. One another, BlueNalu: a new player in the sustainable food industry from San Diego, California, aiming to be the world leader in cell-cultured seafood technology.

Together, Nomad Foods and BlueNalu will work to identify product opportunities and consumer insights, as well as regulatory requirements that would arise from the introduction of cell-cultured seafood in Europe. As a result, in the near future, Europeans may be enjoying fish sticks made from cells grown in the lab and not harvested from the oceans.

So why is this partnership important?

Along with plastic pollution, overfishing is the main reason for the dramatic decline in marine biodiversity the world has witnessed in recent decades, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) determined in a 2018 report. removed nearly 6 billion tons of fish and invertebrates from the world’s oceans since 1950. Six billion tons. Can you imagine how many living creatures that is?

Protecting life underwater is one of the United Nations’ 17 Global Sustainable Development Goals. All nations and continents must contribute if we are to achieve this goal, but Europe might have to go the extra mile: Europeans consume more than three times the seafood they produce, which makes Europe the largest seafood importer in the world.

Europeans’ appetite for fish has remained high even during the COVID-19 crisis. Fortunately, the preference of Europeans for fish is accompanied by a growing awareness of the environmental and health problems linked to the consumption of fish.

From a business perspective, this represents a huge opportunity for Nomad Foods and BlueNalu. However, this partnership could mean much more. We could be witnessing the beginning of a radical transformation of the seafood industry.

BlueNalu’s cell culture amberjack fried for fish tacos. Could Nomad Foods famous fish sticks be next?

The Radical Potential of Cell Cultured Seafood

Cell-cultured seafood relies on the extraction of cells from fish, molluscs or crustaceans in order to propagate them in the laboratory. When grown on proper scaffolding, the result is edible seafood with the texture and structure we know and love from wild fish.

It sounds like science fiction, but this revolutionary technology could be the key to repopulating the world’s seas, now decimated by overfishing, illegal fishing and a series of environmental calamities.

Cell-cultured seafood can also become a champion of animal welfare, as it could save billions of living things from being fished and farmed in suboptimal conditions. The technology also promises to address consumer health concerns, as wild seafood can be the source of mercury, toxins, pathogens and microplastic particles, among others.

All of these advantages make seafood products from cell cultures very attractive, both commercially and environmentally, but some challenges remain.

Challenges

Like all radical technologies, this one will require regulatory approval before it can be applied to consumer products in Europe. But the blessing of regulators will not be enough: consumers will also have to accept lab-grown fish.

Luckily for Nomad Foods and BlueNalu, Europeans are arguably the most environmentally conscious people in the world and among the most health conscious. Therefore, Europe could be the perfect place to introduce cell-cultured seafood to regulators and consumers.

But then there is the issue of cost. We’ve seen it before: products made with breakthrough technologies like this are often very expensive at first. As a result, many will likely think twice before buying cell-cultured fish sticks. However, there is reason to be optimistic. Without going overboard, lab-grown meat prices have fallen sharply and should soon reach parity with regular meat prices.

The road ahead

In the words of Stéfan Descheemaeker, Managing Director of Nomad Foods: “The food industry is at a time of transformation as consumer demand for nutritious, high quality foods increases, the importance of sustainability has never been so evident and the role of technology in meeting these needs is accelerating.

Nomad Foods is the world’s largest buyer of sustainably caught wild fish. Meanwhile, BlueNalu is already focusing its breakthrough technology on fish species that are typically overfished, difficult to farm, and commonly imported. Given their backgrounds and directions, the partnership between the two could kick-start an industry-wide transformation based on the pillars of technology, health and sustainability.

If the challenges ahead can be sorted out (and there’s reason to be optimistic they will be), Nomad Foods’ vision to deliver “great-tasting seafood that’s good for people, good for the planet and accessible to all” could become a reality soon.

Images courtesy of BlueNalu

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