The plant-based meat industry has enjoyed considerable growth in recent years as vegan and vegetarian options become more palatable and closer in taste and texture to the real deal. Plant-based seafood, however, is only starting to emerge as a tasty and readily-available option. Seafood is much harder to replicate than beef, poultry or pork, and startups have been putting hefty research and development dollars towards creating products that will sell.
While there are many sustainable options when it comes to choosing seafood, it can be hard for the average consumer to determine which seafood is sustainable. Many people choose to forgo the fish altogether as a way to move towards a ‘greener’ diet. With the increase in vegan and vegetarian diets, many companies have responded with plant-based seafood options. In the past, plant-based protein options were limited to beef, poultry and pork look-alikes, however, now you can find plant-based fish and shellfish of many varieties. Although the industry is very new, the products are gaining popularity fast. “We are where veggie burgers were ten years ago,” says Chad Sarno, co-founder and chief culinary officer of plant-based seafood brand Good Catch.
The plant-based meat industry is worth more than $900 million, and saw an 18% increase in sales last year. According to market research by the Plant-Based Foods Association, 79% of millenials already consume plant-based meats, and plant-based seafood producers expect the same popularity for fish-less products. Plant-based tuna, salmon, caviar, scallops, squid, crab and shrimp have already entered the market. The most common ingredients in these products are soy, seaweed, yeast, legumes and various vegetable oils and starches
Many species, many options
Unlike poultry and red meat, seafood encompasses more than 200 edible species, some of which people are just now starting to cook with. Tuna, shrimp, and salmon have made up the bulk of the American seafood diet for decades, however with plant-based options, there are more possibilities for producers to play with. Most plant-based seafood brands have started with the already-popular species to help ease people into the new products and take pressure off of overexploited fisheries. “We wanted to launch with a product that would have the greatest impact,” says Sarno, “that’s why we started with tuna.”
According to a GlobalData report, the plant-based seafood is the next big trend in plant-based protein, although the industry is developing slower than it’s plant-based meat counterparts. “Unlike plant-based burgers, seafood has been quite challenging to replicate and has seen a slower pace in terms of innovations. But the seafood industry continues to grow – per capita consumption of seafood increased by 10% between 2015 and 2019,” GlobalData consumer analyst Yamina Tsalamlal told Vegconomist.
Why eat plant-based seafood?
For those that already adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet, plant-based seafood offers additional dietary choice where there were no options before. For the millions of people with seafood allergies, these products can be a welcome addition to their diets and offer nutritional benefits as well.
Plant-based seafood producers boast zero-mercury, no fishy smell, no concern of micro-plastics and a feel-good way to address global overfishing concerns. It can be overwhelming to navigate the waters of sustainable seafood, and oftentimes sustainable options can be hard to find or difficult to identify. Plant-based seafood offers an alternative route for seafood-lovers who want to do a little less research before digging into a tuna (or “toona”) melt.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, from 1990 to 2018, there has been a 122% increase in the amount of fish we are eating, and in 2017, seafood made up 17% of animal protein consumed globally. Perhaps these fish-free alternatives can feed more fish lovers as the demand for seafood continues to increase with the growing global population. Sarno believes that the demand for plant-based seafood will skyrocket; “with the amount of species we consume from the oceans compared to on land…I think that there’s massive opportunity for growth.”