Alternative seafood has vast growth potential, report says

Dive Brief:

  • Alternative seafood is growing rapidly and has vast opportunity for expansion, according to a new report from the Good Food Institute. In 2020, sales of alternative seafood — made from plant proteins or through fermentation — increased 23% above 2019. There are currently 83 companies in the space, which includes those working on cell-based varieties and without products on the market.
  • Plant-based seafood made up just 0.1% of all of the retail dollar sales of the seafood segment in 2020, according to SPINS statistics cited in the report. If plant-based seafood grows to make up 1.4% of the segment’s sales — which is plant-based meat’s current cut of retail meat market dollar sales — it could be worth $221 million.
  • The alternative seafood space has seen many recent developments. Gathered Foods, which has a distribution and logistics partnership with Bumble Bee Foods, has expanded availability of its plant-based offerings and raised $26.35 million this year. Finless Foods, which started as a cell-based seafood provider, is working on a plant-based tuna. And cell-based seafood maker BlueNalu recently announced a partnership with Nomad Foods to bring cell-based seafood to Europe.

Dive Insight:

While the alternative seafood segment is relatively tiny now, the Good Food Institute pointed out in its report that the potential is virtually endless. There is a vast diversity of ocean species and a plethora of taste profiles, meaning a lot of different food items that companies can replicate for consumers.

Funding is pouring in to help these companies improve their products and expand their scale. In the first half of 2021 alone, a record-setting $116 million has been invested in the space, according to Pitchbook data cited by the Good Food Institute. Netting the largest investments were Gathered Foods and BlueNalu, which received $60 million in January.

Consumers are also interested in knowing more about the space and having the opportunity to taste products. Nearly three in four consumers are interested in alternative seafood, according to a recent study from Kelton Global commissioned by the Good Food Institute. And, like many other kinds of animal food alternatives, the majority of those interested in seafood alternatives are omnivores who are on no specific diet, the study found.

Most consumers — 78% of those who said they were interested in both plant-based and cell-based meat — said that messaging about the taste and texture of the products would be the most likely thing to encourage them to try it, according to the Kelton study. The next most important thing is talking about sustainability aspects — 7% of potential consumers of plant-based seafood would want to hear about how these products reduce overfishing, and 7% of potential cell-based seafood consumers are interested in how products save ocean habitats.

All of this interest couldn’t come at a better time for the alternative seafood industry. Many plant-based and fermented seafood startups are getting ready to launch products or are soon expanding to the United States. Foodservice dining rooms are starting to reopen, and that’s where Americans do 65% of their seafood spending. As the FDA weighs a regulatory regime for cell-based seafood, companies in the space have been working with the agency and are preparing pilot plants so that they can launch products as soon as possible.

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