A new wave of food-tech start-ups are aiming to do with the market for fish what hugely successful front-runners such as Beyond Meat and Impossible foods achieved with beef – develop genuine taste and experience alternative made entirely of plant-based ingredients.
Beyond Meat, the Californian food-tech company that sells faux beef burger patties made entirely of plant-based products has seen its value soar to over $9 billion since May after one of the most successful IPOs in history. Still-private rival Impossible Foods was valued at $2 billion after its most recent investment round of $300 million, which again took place in May. Both are also quickly growing revenues to back up, or at least lend support to, huge valuations which have been achieved on the basis of optimism around the future size of the market for high quality vegan meat alternatives.
That success has fuelled a new wave of investment capital that is supporting the food-tech start-ups that are now attempting to replicate the success of Beyond Meat and Impossible foods in the fish and seafood space. Start-ups such as Finless Fish working towards commercially viable means to ‘grow’ fish meat from fish cell cultures came first and are making solid progress alongside their peers, such as Memphis Meats, doing the same thing for beef, pork and poultry. But the new breed of start-ups are taking the Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods approach of attempting to recreate the taste, smell and feel of fish and seafood products using only plant-based ingredients.
Impossible Foods itself has already announced that it is working towards the introduction of fish products. Others are newcomers that are mainly purely focused on the faux-fish market. Alpha Foods is one and is confident it will release products that taste, smell and feel like a McDonald’s fillet-o-fish and a fish and chips cod piece sometime next year. Ocean Huggers is trying to replicate the raw tuna and eel slices used in sushi from tomatoes and aubergine respectively and Wave Food vegan shrimp based on seaweed and soya protein.
Good Catch, one of the best funded, is trying to do it with tinned tuna. Chad Sarno, a vegan chef leading product development at the company has been testing progress with his pet cat who he says now reacts enthusiastically and runs over when he produces a sample.
However, there is still plenty to do. Plant-based fish alternatives present an even more complex challenge than meat equivalents. The human palate is even more sensitive to subtle differences in fish flavour, smell and feel in the mouth and can quickly be put off if somethings not quite right – possible a consequence of the heightened danger of food poisoning that seafood has always represented. We also eat a much wider variety of fish and other seafood species than we do meat and the industry will have to offer all the most popular if it is to win over consumers.
Another issue is that fish is considered to represent the standard when it comes to healthy proteins humans can consume and plant-based alternatives will find it close to impossible to match the nutritional value of the real thing. However, a balance to that is the fact that there is increasing concern about microplastics and mercury contamination of fish meat as well as the cleanliness of farm-raised fish.
But environmental concerns around the impact over fishing has and continues to have on marine ecosystems mean that if plant-based fish start-up get the taste and broader experience right, the potential market is sizeable. That’s enough to entice investors and it’s becoming clear that with enough finance in place, food technology is developing quickly enough to find solutions.