While the plant-based meat and dairy sectors have already been established as strong contenders in the food industry, seafood alternatives are still in their infancy.
Notable hurdles still need to be overcome in the plant-based seafood sector, including taste, texture and the product’s ability to achieve the same health benefits as their seafood counterparts.
According to recent research by the Plant-Based Foods Association, 79% of millennials already consume plant-based meats and the same popularity is predicted for veganised seafood products. Here, FoodBev explores five significant areas of the plant-based seafood market.
Seafood flavours are notoriously difficult to replicate and with such a wide variety of offerings on the market (from the subtle taste of shrimp and scallops, to the very fishy sardines and anchovies), producing viable alternatives is far less straightforward for this sector than its meaty equivalents
Ingredient innovation is paramount here. Plant-based sources such as algae are a popular choice, while the most common ingredients include soy, seaweed, yeast and vegetables, as well as a vegetable oils and starches.
The technical challenge of replicating flaky, fragile seafood is also a significant challenge for this sector. Many companies in the plant-based industry focus their efforts on developing a singular seafood replica rather than producing multiple, varied products simultaneously.
FoodBev has seen a number of plant-based product launches this year that attempt to mimic the flakiness of seafood. Nestlé made its first move into the alternative seafood category with the launch of a vegan tuna in Switzerland, called Vuna, which has been described as having a “flaky texture and rich flavour” and can be used across a variety of dishes. Meanwhile, Good Catch recently secured a partnership with Veggie Grill which saw its plant-based tuna feature on the restaurant’s menu. The company’s ‘tuna’ is made from a six-legume blend (peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans), which is said to create a texture that imitates the flakiness of seafood.
The plant-based seafood market has witnessed a number of large-scale investments into start-ups across the past year, emphasising the heightened demand for fish alternatives. Cellular aquaculture start-up BlueNalu received $20 million in a Series A funding round earlier this year. The company has developed a method of producing seafood directly from fish cells with the aim of creating more sustainable seafood alternatives.
September 2019 saw meat giant Tyson Foods invest in New Wave Foods, a producer of plant-based seafood alternatives. Amy Tu, president of Tyson Ventures, said: “We’re excited about this investment in the fast-growing segment of the plant-based protein market.” New Wave Foods is launching its first product, plant-based shrimp into the national US market in January. Even celebrities are backing the growth of the seafood alternative category, with Good Catch’s vegan tuna recently gaining support from a cohort of investors including Woody Harrelson and Paris Hilton. We can expect to see this pattern of financing for start-ups that offer a positive impact to continue into the new year.
According to research by The Good Food Institute (GFI), the US is home to the largest proportion of vegan companies offering seafood alternatives. The GFI found plant-based seafood to make up just 1% ($9.5m) of the total amount of plant-based meat sales in the US in 2019. Not only do the more varied tastes and textures found in seafood make the production of alternatives more complex, but the market for these alternatives remains small. With significantly less capacity for spending on research than the meat sectors, this category’s growth has been slower than other plant-based sectors.
Despite these challenges, it is evident that plant-based seafood offers a significant opportunity to companies and investors alike. An abundance of shellfish allergies across the world combined with a dwindling supply of fish in our oceans means we can expect to see exponential growth in this category in the coming years.
Covid-19 has had a huge impact on meat and fish supplies across the globe, as fears of infection on crowded fishing boats or in meat production plants caused concern. Consumers have also become much more focused on their own health and wellbeing as a result of the pandemic. According to a recent survey by Mintel, a quarter of millennials in the UK say the pandemic has made a plant-based diet more appealing.
In addition, food and beverage companies have faced scrutiny from environmentally-conscious consumers, governments and organisations to provide more sustainable products. As a result, plant-based diets have become more important than ever before.
Alex Beckett, associate director at Mintel Food & Drink, said: “People want the world to change for the better right now and they are searching for ways to show compassion. For consumers struggling to know how to make a positive difference, cutting out animal protein may be seen as a way of tackling the climate crisis, showing compassion for nature, and boosting their own nutrient intake.”
Taste and texture will be crucial to the success of the plant-based seafood market. Products that do well will also offer clear health benefits that mirror that of seafood. While seafood alternatives have been slow to take off, with more developments making a splash, growth for the sector continues to look promising.
Have you got a great tasting seafood alternative? The World Plant-Based Taste Awards 2021 has a designated category ‘Best plant-based seafood’ just for you.
See all 12 categories and find out how to enter here.
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