Why hasn’t plant-based seafood taken off?

From Shopper Marketing Report: Unlike other proteins, it has failed to be caught up in the wave of flexitarian demand.

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In the spring, online marketplace Vejii announced a hub for vegan and plant-based products, including seafood alternatives, to serve growing demand.

The move, according to its CEO, was to make plant-based even more accessible and to reach out to the country’s estimated 2.3 million vegetarians and approximately 850,000 vegans, after launching successfully in the U.S. in 2020.

Meanwhile, more established brands like Gardein, which also sells on Vejii ,has urged consumers to “cheat on meat.” In the CPG’s latest mass marketing campaign aimed at flexitarians, however, seafood wasn’t worthy of such a dalliance, and was not part of the broadcast creative.

While Gardein does offer plant-based marine options, including fishless filet and crabless cakes, Ian Roberts, VP and GM at Conagra Brands Canada, said they were instead highlighted in influencer posts, as well as in broadcast segments with chefs.

Last November, plant-based player Good Catch brought three frozen SKUs to the Canadian market, investing heavily in earned and paid media to drive awareness to 640 grocery banner locations. 

gardein-filletsBut as these brands have tested the waters, fishless fish has failed to take off to the same degree as things like burgers or nuggets.

Joel Gregoire, Mintel Canada’s associate director of food and drink, says he suspects it can be chalked up to lack of selection, but also perceptions that fish and seafood are already perceived to be healthy when compared to red meat – which has typically been one of the biggest drivers in demand for plant-based meat.

“I’ve tried plant-based salmon as an appetizer, and was legitimately ‘fooled’, so I think it’s a good option for vegans and vegetarians,” Gregoire says. “But I don’t hear people saying they’re looking to cut back on their seafood and fish consumption, so there’s not a lot of reason to try a replacement in the first place.”

According to Michael Cheaib, business resource manager at Lagoon Seafood, seafood is a market of its own, and can’t necessarily be compared to other things.

goodcatchmain“People who are looking to eat fish specifically are not necessarily looking to eat plant-based,” Cheaib maintains. 

However, the frozen food player has admitted it is looking into opportunities by further studying the space and understanding its demographics.

While demand remains lukewarm, there are some signs change could be on the horizon: in June, Protein Industries Canada, an industry-led, not-for-profit created to position the country as a global source of high-quality plant protein and plant-based co-products, announced a co-investment with New School Foods and Liven Proteins into the development of plant-based seafood products.

Efforts will be based around developing a whole muscle, plant-based fish filet that “emulates the same texture, taste and cooking experience of fish, creating a product that appeals to the mass-market consumer.”

Conventional plant-based growth, seafood excepted, continues unabated.

Sol Cuisine, a frozen player in the space and which offers a tiny array of seafood offerings, such as crispy tempura fillets, recently unveiled new ecommerce capabilities as it continue to invest in marketing and the expansion of its distribution network, online-initiated orders and new channels such as e-commerce.

 

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