Every category within the alternative protein food space has seen significant development in recent years. Though, within the past 18-months, one category in particular has shown dramatic growth: alternative seafood products.
Fueled by a growing awareness of the state of our oceans and heavy metal contamination in seafood, informed by news of the climate and documentaries such as Seaspiracy (which debuted on Netflix in 2021), consumers are seeking plant-based seafood options at higher rates than ever before. The United States has shown the most interest in these products with a 100 percent increase in searches for ‘vegan seafood’ over the past 12-months. This is followed by an 83 percent surge in Australia and a 45 percent increase in the UK. Searches for ‘plant-based seafood’ have also increased dramatically in Singapore, and Canada.
Investments in the space have significantly grown, with $70 million invested in the first half of 2021 in the US – over twice the amount invested in the previous two years combined. In 2021 there was a 92 percent increase in dollars invested in the category globally compared to 2020 levels.
Several large food companies are beginning to enter the market. Meat-giant Tyson Food Inc.’s venture arm has owned a minority stake in a plant-based seafood company since 2019, while Thai Union Group’s in-house manufactured line of plant-based products includes several alternative seafood options, Nestle SA has a non-fish tuna product available through parts of Europe, and even Swedish retailer Ikea sells a plant-based caviar. The entrance of these players into the market indicates an increased normalization of alternative seafood products and strongly suggests that this category is poised for continued growth.
While the ingredient panels of most alternative seafood products can be similar to other plant-based options on the market, some uniquely incorporate seaweed and various algae. The numerous kinds of seaweed and algae available can offer functional benefits to consumers with some known to aid thyroid function, weight loss, and heart health. Further, these ingredients can provide the salty, ‘fishy’ flavor that flexitarian consumers crave as well as reduced costs in harvesting and processing – adding to the positive indicators for startups looking to scale their manufacturing of plant-based seafood products.