Moving Boundaries

A Good Catch

They’re a real catch among food product innovations: No, Vuna, ZeaStar and Novish are not typos, but vegan substitutes for fish – the ‘next big thing’, according to market research. What makes these products so interesting to the industry and to customers?

Restaurant guests and supermarket customers have grown accustomed to plant-based alternatives to the classic meat patty. Even bratwurst and pâtés have not come exclusively from animals for quite a while. So it was only a matter of time before the market for substitute products moved into the next category: fish. Recently, the product ‘No Tuna Sashimi’ received the Vegan Food Award from PETA. Their reasoning: ‘This innovative product contains tapioca starch and algae instead of overfishing and animal cruelty. The next sushi evening can come with a clear conscience.’

Vegan fish products differ from their ‘real’ counterparts in a number of ways. One aspect that many customers like is the lack of smell, says Mutlu Paksoy, Senior Category Manager Fish at METRO Germany. Another advantage is that the products currently offered at METRO Germany are frozen, making them ideal for portioning. This reduces the amount of leftovers and thus cuts down on waste. According to Paksoy, sushi restaurants are currently among the most frequent buyers of the new products at METRO. They are delighted that they can finally offer a vegan sushi alternative that goes beyond cucumber and avocado maki.

Fish substitutes are vegan rather than vegetarian, as this allows us to reach customers who want to avoid animal products completely.

Mutlu Paksoy, Senior Category Manager Fish at METRO Germany

‘Our HoReCa customers are responding to the changing behaviour of consumers, who are increasingly asking for fish- and meat-free alternatives,’ Paksoy says. In terms of fish alternatives, METRO Germany had initially only offered vegan caviar. ‘We wanted to expand the range with the Vegan ZeaStar products to offer our gastro customers additional tasty, high-quality alternatives for their guests.’ Vegan fish alternatives now come from different producers and in a variety of forms, such as sashimi, calamari and lemon shrimp up to vegan fish fingers.

Like the already familiar meat substitutes, alternative fish products consist of vegetable proteins, soy, peas or tapioca starch, which is made from processed and dried cassava root. In preparation, the vegan substitutes behave similarly to the original, which is especially important when frying. Following the success of the products in Germany, METRO Austria decided to join the fish-substitute trend and now also offers a range of these products.

METRO’s approach is to offer a diverse range of animal and plant proteins that come from sustainable sources. The topic ‘conscious proteins’ is one of 8 strategic focus areas of METRO's sustainability strategy. METRO has developed a position on conscious proteins and is in regular exchange with NGOs. The range of so-called alternative proteins includes a variety of products and is also aligned to regional demand: seaweed, for example, is available at METRO Japan, while METRO stores in Germany and Austria carry insect noodles.

Mutlu Paksoy, Senior Category Manager Fish at METRO Germany

The market for vegan fish substitutes is still relatively small compared to the overall market for fish. So, as Andrea Weber, Director Corporate Responsibility at METRO, explains, problems such as overfishing or a lack of animal welfare standards will not be solved by ‘vegan fish’ alone. ‘These challenges must be solved where they arise,’ says Weber. ‘We will always be dependent on proteins like fish to be able to feed humanity in a sufficient and balanced way.’

Nevertheless, alternative products could take some pressure off the existing system, according to Fabio Ziemssen, Managing Director of the innovation hub NX-Food: ‘For many consumers, vegan alternatives are a tried-and-tested way to gradually change their diet. A change in attitude among consumers leads to a more conscious approach to food. Especially with everyday products like tuna and salmon, vegan alternatives can be a very helpful replacement.’ NX-Food researches novel foods and manufactures alternatives, such as meat produced from cell cultures and fish substitutes made with 3D printers.

The development of plant-based substitutes is more than just a fad. It could also be part of necessary measures to meet the growing demand for food. ‘In many respects, plant-based alternatives offer the chance to feed a growing world population,’ Ziemssen says. At the same time, a menu with many plant-based foods can contribute to a healthier diet – but of course that is not always the case. ‘Plant-based foods can also be “unhealthy” or at least not beneficial to health,’ Ziemssen explains. Substitute products, be they meat or fish alternatives, sometimes contain fewer nutrients than the ‘original’. As with so many other things, it’s the right mix that counts – and vegan fish can be a part of that.

Alternatives are trending

Plant-based substitutes are becoming increasingly popular – this applies to meat alternatives and is likely for fish substitutes as well. According to forecasts, the global market for plant-based ‘fish’ is expected to grow by 28% annually until 2031, to top a valuation of $1.3 billion by 2031. Plant-based shrimps are expected to top the popularity scale. The possibilities of successfully establishing fish alternatives on the market were therefore also the subject of an episode of the Future Food Series. NX-Food and the ProVeg Incubator spoke with founders from Europe and Asia about the future of veggie seafood & co: Future Food Series: SEAFOOD Presented by ProVeg Incubator & NX-Food.


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