November, 2021

Insight: plant-based seafood

State of the oceans: seafood production and consumption

Fish is known as one of the healthiest foods we can eat, as it is an excellent source of nutrients such as selenium, iodine and vitamin D. In addition, fish is a good protein provider as well as a source of nutrients such as omega 3, which we can find in salmon for example. Many of the most popular and healthy diets promote a moderate consumption of fish, such as the Mediterranean Diet (MD), Japanese Diet (JD) and New Nordic Diet (NND). However, growing concerns about the sustainability of seafood are leading consumers to change their eating habits. According to the study conducted by the Good Food Institute called “An Ocean of Opportunity: Plant-based and cell-based seafood for sustainable oceans without sacrifice”, as reported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, since 1974 biologically sustainable fish stocks have dropped from 90% to just under 66% today. In addition to this, the rise in pollutants and metals found in the seafood we consume is another factor driving the consumer to switch to plant-based alternatives to fish. Also, factors such as the high impact of allergies to fish products, as well as their price in the market are leading to an increase in the number of early-adopters of alternative products.

After decades of overuse, the marine ecosystem finds itself in an environmentally degraded state. Around the world, a fishing system that often failed in promoting responsibility has led to the extinction of several species, bringing ocean ecosystems to the point of collapse. The development and widespread marketing of plant-based and cell-based alternatives to fish is a promising approach to decrease the pressure on both fishing systems, wild fisheries and aquaculture, as well as decreasing food waste due to the high perishability of fish.

Seafood alternatives on the rise

According to the report issued by the non-profit organization Good Food Institute called “State of the Industry report: Alternative Seafood” the alternative protein industry has seen a record growth in 2020, and alternative seafood products are slowly gaining their position in the industry. In 2020, the U.S. retail seafood market grew 27%, and in detail, retail sales of plant-based seafood products increased 23%.

Who is the target market interested in fish-alternative products?

They identify as flexitarians or pescatarians, who either want to reduce or consume less meat and fish for health, ethical or environmental reasons. The main factors that influence the purchase of fish-alternative products are taste and texture. In addition to this, environmental impact, food safety, protein and nutritional content claims can also encourage consumers to choose plant-based fish-alternative products. In the market are increasingly spreading different vegetable fish products, both from vegetable matrix, such as soy and legumes. Especially soy is an excellent source of omega-3 and for this reason it is one of the most commonly used vegetable ingredients to produce fish-alternative products. Besides the original protein matrix, there are other ingredients often used to reproduce the taste, texture and properties of fish. For example, seaweeds (wakame and nori) are used to replicate the seafood taste of fish, as well as because they contain minerals, vitamins, antioxidants and omega 3. Another ingredient used as substitute to fish is konjac, present in the whole Southeast Asia, as it is low in calories and high in fiber making it an excellent base for these products. Currently in the market it is possible to find different varieties of fish substitute, from white and red meat fish, shellfish and shrimps, to raw fish.

Sink or swim: market challenges and opportunities

In addition to the previously mentioned market opportunities resulting from the demand for alternatives to fish for ethical or health reasons, these products also show significant benefits to the industry in terms of increased efficiency throughout the supply chain. Plant- or cell-based seafood products could ease overfishing or aquaculture systems, as well as reducing waste given their high perishability.

In particular, producers of fish-alternative products have a highly potential market ahead, as there are several types of fish that could be developed. The biggest challenge to overcome in the creation of these products remains replicating taste and texture of traditional fish in view of reaching complete consumer satisfaction. Currently, most products on the market are presented as minced or breaded. This leaves room for greater innovation and research aimed at the development of products such as fillets or slices of fish, recreating the layers of fat, collagen and protein, reproducing the organoleptic properties of the conventional product. Taste is also an important issue for producers, as it is important to maintain the delicacy of traditional fish, avoiding the use of strong and artificial flavors. In the coming years we will certainly see many innovations in this sector, with different products and textures, giving the possibility of a greater choice for consumers.

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