As mentioned in our plant-based fish category analysis at the end of last week, both start-ups and established brands alike are researching and developing plant-products that aim to meet growing consumer demand.
AI-based food trend data from pioneering platform Tastewise revealed that plant-based (or, indeed, vegan) fish is showing promising growth in the UK. Tuna, for example, has grown +15.4% on average each month over the last year when it comes to appearances on restaurant menus.
Plant-based tuna is, along with salmon, currently the most seen faux fish format in the UK, with a number of pioneering brands launching products over the past few years, including Good Catch.
Founded by Wicked Kitchen brothers Derek and Chad Sarno in 2016 in the US, Good Catch provide plant-based protein options that have the rich flavours and flaky textures of fine seafood.
The brand offer a number of plant-based fish retail options both in the UK and across the pond – including fish cakes, fish burgers and the aforementioned vegan tuna – and made their foodservice debut in October last year after securing a partnership with US fast-service restaurant chain, Veggie Grill.
To find out more about the emerging plant-based fish trend in the UK, we had a chat with Louise Kirby, development and brand lead at Good Catch.
Louise is an expert in the world of plant-based foods. She also has a background in major retail, previously working as a cross-category plant-based product development manager at Tesco.
“The technology with replicating fish has come on leaps and bounds in the last ten years,” Louise told me.
“Similar to the meat mimic and cell technology around plant-based alternatives, the development in this industry is rapidly advancing.”
In our interview with Louise, we discuss the advancement of faux fish from a development point of view, the different ingredients used in creating seafood alternatives and the unusual idea of vegan ceviche:
What replacements have you tried in test kitchens? Do some ingredients work better than others?
“I have tried quite a few fish alternatives, but of course I have to say Good Catch is by far the best one! Banana blossom is okay as it has those layers and flakes that some fish have but to me still is a little soft.
“I tried a great sushi in Planet Organic a while back and still not found how to replicate it – I feel it was reconstituted carrot rather than very thinly sliced and pickled.
“I find carrot still has that bite to it that fish doesn’t really have so mimicking the textures using a mix of ingredients to deliver a non-compromised experience is the best for me.”
Do you think fish-replacement brands should focus on the protein content? What are the key drivers for consumers, beyond the vegan angle?
“I do think that pulling out and highlighting to customers what the protein content is of a fish alternative is important.
“Customers are looking to cut down on animal products in their diet, but they still want the same taste, experience and nutritional value. Protein especially is one of the first elements customers feel they will lack in their diet if they don’t eat animal products.”
Why do you think plant-based fish appears to have seen slower movement when compared to the likes of beef, chicken and pork?
“I think that it is easier for people to relate to pigs, cows and sheep as animals they see roaming around and therefore would be the first part of a reduction in animal diet they go to naturally first.
“I also think there has been much more initially for people to read about red meat and links to diet and health conditions. This to me is the first step in many customers minds, cut down on the ‘heavy’ and recognisable meat/animal products and then transition over time to white meat and fish.”
There seems to be a recent focus on faux white fish NPD, more so than salmon and tuna – what do you see as the most challenging fish to position as vegan?
“That’s a good question. I think that breading a white fish alternative is easier to replicate than a naked, more complex fish like salmon and tuna.
“Mainly because of how customers are used to eating those products, getting a smoked salmon to be very thin, made of a plant-alternative with the right texture in my opinion is very hard.”
What do you make of vegan shellfish? Is there a market for that in the UK?
“I don’t think I have seen many examples of this yet really. Like you said the fish alternatives are really starting to gain momentum now, so I believe the focus will be on the everyday swaps that people that are reducing their intake can relate to and put in a meal they usually have.
“Shellfish will probably be something more for the restaurant industry and high-end shops.”
What exciting new faux fish products have you seen in the UK and further afield, both in retail and out-of-home (restaurants)?
“Family favourites, really. So products that are tapping into the regular meal repertoire that aren’t scary and are easy to relate to for customers, but without the fish in!”
What is the biggest challenge in vegan fish development?
“Personally, I would say how to scale up a brand-new concept using unique machinery to mimic the texture of fish and sell at a price that is affordable for all.”
Finally, what do you make of ‘vegan ceviche’? A thing?
“Hmm, maybe a fad more than a thing, this could be my retail background, but I don’t see it catching on in large retailers, maybe more for when eating out in fine-dining restaurants.”