Amid growing concerns about pollutants, overfishing and climate change, now is the perfect time for companies to invest in plant-based and other alt-seafood technologies, experts told The Food Institute.
The Good Food Institute, an international network of organizations working on sustainable proteins, noted in its latest “Alternative Seafood Industry Update” $175 million was invested in plant-based, fermentation and cultivation technologies in 2021 compared to just $91 million in 2020. Since 2013, $313 million has been invested.
Twenty-one new companies joined the sector last year, including Nestle and Long John Silver’s, bringing the total to 120.
The growth reflects consumer interest, with U.S. sales last year for alternative seafood growing to $13.9 million. Overall, U.S. sales for alternative proteins grew to 7.4 billion, GFI said.
“Alternative seafood companies are taking advantage of the opportunity to develop seafood alternatives that appeal to various markets. 2021 saw the first launches of alternative seafood in Estonia, South Africa, Latvia, Australia and Israel,” GFI reported.
The update added: “It appears that investors increasingly view the alternative seafood industry as a market white space and recognize the role that alternative seafood has in protecting our oceans while meeting growing global seafood demand.”
The potential market is global. Food scientist Bryan Quoc Le told The Food Institute that East Asia would be a huge market.
“Seafood makes up a large percentage of the cuisine in East Asia. Being able to replicate the taste and texture of seafood is technically challenging but potentially quite lucrative for plant-based companies,” he said.
Then there’s the question of overfishing. Chef Michail Korovin, known as “The Caviar Guy,” noted the supply of wild-caught fish is decreasing, leading to concerns about sustainability.
“Many companies are looking for ways to produce seafood that doesn’t put so much strain on the environment,” he said.
“Plant-based seafood is often cheaper than traditional seafood options because it doesn’t require the same level of processing and doesn’t need to be shipped long distances. As a result, plant-based seafood can be a great option for companies looking to save money.”
Bryan Nagele, CEO of Restaurant Clicks, said health-conscious consumers are driving the research.
“Many people became more aware of their diets due to recent food sensitivities or intolerances,” Nagele noted. “And with that came more media coverage on mercury poisoning from seafood, especially in industrialized countries like the U.S., where factory waste enters natural waterways. Plant-based beef replaced the fat-laden meats in many American meal plans. Plant-based seafood will hopefully provide a healthier alternative to possibly toxin-containing fish.”