More consumers are shifting towards vegan diets due to growing environmental and carbon emission concerns, and plant-based seafood looks to be the next big food product in the rapidly growing new protein market.
Plant-based meat is now ubiquitous in restaurants and supermarkets, with sales soaring through the roof. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which were some of the earliest producers of plant-based meat alternatives, have become household names.
The rapid growth of vegan food as more consumers shift away from meat-based diets have prompted large companies to expand their plant-based protein offerings, with plant-based seafood now taking the spotlight.
A number of new start-ups are betting on vegan seafood entirely. US-based food tech company Good Catch utilises plant-based ingredients including peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy beans, fava beans and navy beans in their products, which will be offered in varying forms of fish fillets, fish burgers, fish cakes, and even crab cakes. While Swedish plant-based seafood startup Hooked Foods, which already offers a vegan tuna product, is about to launch what claims to be the first vegan shredded salmon on the market.
Investment in plant-based seafood is also growing, and fast. According to the Good Food Institute, sales from the sector rose 23% between 2019 and 2020, and USD $116 million has been invested in the vegan seafood specifically just within the first half of 2021, exceeding 2020’s total of $90 million.
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Shifting to incorporate plant-based seafood in people’s diet can help reduce the demand of fresh seafood, alleviate the global overfishing problem and stress on the already-deleting marine population. It will also reduce the rates of by-catching and environmental impacts to ocean habitats. In 2018, global seafood production reached a level of 179 million metric tons (MT), 156 MT of which went towards human consumption. This amounts to an average consumption of 20.5 kg per capita, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
“Giving consumers more sustainable, affordable, and traceable choices” is a “positive development” for the oceans and the environment,” Molly Masterton, Natural Resources Defense Council’s fisheries director, told CNN. “Adding more plant-based seafood options to the market could help take pressure off some of the fish species that are in high demand.”
But it’s not only startup companies that are moving the vegan seafood market. Large food corporations have hopped on the bandwagon to roll out their own plant-based seafood products. Nestlé, which has already introduced an alternative tuna, or ‘Vuna’ last year, has recently unveiled new plant-based shrimps, as well as liquid egg alternative. Made from seaweed, peas and the roots of konjac, the company’s ‘vrimp’ will be available across European markets.
“Over time there will be an opportunity to essentially offer a plant-based version of every animal protein around ,” Nestlé chief executive Mark Schneider said at an event in London, “I feel that we are onto something that is a major trend.”
Schnieder claims their meat alternative products produce 70-80% less carbon emissions compared with their meat and dairy equivalents, hoping to attract more consumers who are mindful of their carbon footprints and different dietary considerations.
Featured image by: Good Catch