The Seaspiracy effect: plant-based seafood is making waves.

Are consumers saying tartare to seafood?

by Bella Ali-Khan | Plant-Based | 23 March 2022

The 24th March will mark the anniversary of the launch of Seaspiracy, a Netflix documentary that uncovered the devastating impact of fishing on our oceans and planet. The film was intensely popular, going viral within days, despite falling into hot water with a host of organisations and individuals, who claimed the documentary was misleading. Complaints came from the likes of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and Oceana, with The Guardian reporting claims of misrepresentation within the film. 

Diving into the conversation 

Regardless of the controversy surrounding the film, Seaspiracy viewings continued to skyrocket, perhaps in part thanks to endorsement from the likes of Bryan Adams and George Monbiot. With reviews and support for the film spreading across social media, it’s not surprising that consumer interest in seafood alternatives likewise rocketed. As many realised just how damaging intensive overfishing is for the environment, ecosystems and food chains, people researched how to cut out fish from their diets, and importantly, what to replace it with.

Not long after the launch of the film, 2021 Google searches for ‘Vegan seafood’ soared. It was registered as a breakthrough search, meaning it saw upwards of a 5000% increase. Searches for ‘how to conserve’, ‘impact of climate change,’ and ‘sustainability’ also reached all-time highs. This sudden demand from consumers lit a fire under the innovation that was already bubbling away in the seafood alternative segment. 

Sailing in uncharted waters

The Good Food Institute reports that 90% of wild fisheries are classified as overfished, while 170 countries are projected to be left with substantial unmet demand for seafood in the near future. It’s clear that innovation in this arena is vital. It’s also a huge opportunity for brands willing to sail in uncharted waters. In 2020, US retail sales of alternative seafood increased 23%

Innovation is now rapidly picking up pace. By the end of June 2021, 87 companies worldwide were producing alternative seafood. That’s up from 27 in 2017, but it’s still a fragment of the size of the global meat alternative market, which is anticipated to reach $7 million by 2025

The opportunities for brands who commandeer the bridge early could be huge. As the Good Food Institute (GFI) reports, ‘while this early growth is promising, alternative seafood remains a market whitespace, and is a fraction of the size of the alternative protein market.’ As plant-based seafood doesn’t rely on ‘wild population productivity or geographical considerations’, products can be consistently produced without the supply chain constraints of wild and farmed seafood. 

The routes into creating plant-based seafood are also relatively untapped. Research has begun into the use of seaweed in plant-based seafood, with seaweed-based fish, soy and oyster sauces and an Irish seaweed burger already on the market, with lots more products anticipated. As an island nation, this is good news for the UK.

On the right tack

When it comes to specific innovation in this sphere, there’s a blend of bigger brands and startups. Plant-based seafood brand, Kuleana, was one of TIME’s 2021 Best Inventions (a list which also included COVID-19 vaccines). While other brands including Good Catch, Ocean Hugger Foods and New Wave have all released new seafood alternative products.

Larger brand entrances to date include Nestlé’s Vuna and Vrimp (three guesses what those are imitating), from its Garden Gourmet brand. Similarly, Birds Eye’s plant-based brand, Green Cuisine, now sells fishless fingers. Many supermarkets are also entering the water, including Aldi, ASDA, Co-op, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, which all sell varying seafood alternative products, own-brand and branded. 

Meanwhile on the restaurant scene, London-based vegan restaurant, Holy Carrot, launched a ‘Seaspiracy seafood platter’ for Veganuary 2022. The dish was so popular, the restaurant extended the special for another month. And Wagamama’s 50% plant-based menu now includes a vegan take on fish and chips

The products available for consumers to try are already vast, with plant-based versions of fish sauce, raw and tinned tuna, white fish fillets, squid, ceviche, fishcakes, fingers and sticks, and even caviar now on the market. 

The lure of the sea 

According to the Good Food Institute, consumers look for flavour and texture as key factors in trying seafood alternatives. Also interestingly, 78% of consumers who are interested in alternative meat and seafood said the messaging about the taste and texture would be most likely to encourage them to try it. 

In terms of importance of messaging to consumers, the Good Food Institute research lists them in this priority: 

    1. Flavour and texture 
    2. Reduction in overfishing
    3. Reduction in plastic waste from fishing 
    4. High omega-3 content 
    5. Lack of fish bones 

As well as messaging, offering consumers new variety and variation will attract purchases. Seafood preferences vary around the world, with regional predilection opening up new opportunities for brands exploring this market. 

In the UK, offering more than breaded and minced vegan meat and seafood alternatives will help to differentiate. Similarly, moving beyond freezer and shelf-stable isles will help to increase visibility. Take, for example, that displaying plant-based milks and meats in the chilled isles helps to encourage curious consumers to try new products, rather than their usual dairy or meat product. Putting new plant-based seafood products front and centre, alongside usual favourites, rather than asking consumers to hunt them out, will improve interest. Couple that with clear and concise packaging that speaks to consumers’ interests, and you’re sure to be onto a winner. 

Working with businesses who are taking the plant-based market by storm is why we get out of bed in the mornings. If you’re after some support with a move into plant-based seafood, get in touch. We’d love to help. 

While you’re here, why not have a read of our The Future is Plant report. Download it for free and get your teeth into the endless opportunities within this fascinating market.