Written by Dasha Shor, Global Food Analyst, Mintel
Plant-based fish; will consumers bite?
Plant-based seafood innovation is heating up. Environmental positioning and innovation in a variety of species will be key to long-term success in the category .
Plant-based seafood is making waves
In recent years, meat substitute innovation has largely focused on red and white meat alternatives, while seafood alternatives have remained fairly niche. However, plant-based seafood innovation has recently picked up pace.
Fish and shellfish alternatives are trending in the plant-based arena as companies large and small are creating animal-free tuna and lox. Yet, the value they deliver to consumers might not be comparable to alternatives to beef and other red meats.
Health is not plant-based seafood's strong suit
Most consumers who are eating less meat are doing so for health reasons. Yet, in contrast to red meat alternatives, plant-based seafood brands will find that focusing on health may not be the right positioning if they want to vie for the attention of mainstream consumers.
This boils down to one reason – the consumer needs that these products are solving are just not the same. Unlike red meat, fish and shellfish enjoy a healthy reputation that gives them a clear advantage over other proteins. In fact, more than half of US consumers who eat fish agree that plant-based fish substitutes lack the health benefits of fish/shellfish. Thus, companies need to find other differentiators, beyond health. With health as a primary reason for eating less meat, real fish can actually step in as a viable substitute, mitigating the need for plant-based varieties.
Focusing on tangible environmental concerns will be key to success for plant-based seafood
There are several factors that might contribute to consumer interest in fish alternatives, beyond the health benefits of plant-based eating, such as environmental and ethical concerns. This includes overfishing, as well as concerns around labor practices (eg peeling shrimp), environmental pollution, including microplastics, and diseases that affect farmed fish communities. Ethical and environmental positioning will especially appeal to the segment of consumers who express concerns about the impact of animal products on planetary health. For example, Mintel data shows that almost a quarter of US consumers who eat fewer animal products do so due to environmental concerns.
Another opportunity is to appeal to a much larger consumer group that is cutting back on animal proteins because they are trying to add more plants into their diet. Plant-based seafood can be positioned as a flavorful and unique option to expand plant-based protein options and stave off meal boredom.
The opportunity for plant-based fish
Compared with meat alternatives, which are positioned as healthier options, plant-based fish will find its potential as a sustainable alternative to some of the more challenging-to-cultivate species and adding a greater variety of sustainable protein options to consumers' plates.
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About the author: Dasha Shor, Global Food Analyst, Mintel
Dasha is a global food analyst, specializing in dairy, animal proteins and their alternatives. A Registered Dietitian, Dasha leans on her nutrition and food science expertise and experience working with commodity, foodservice and CPG companies to develop actionable insights for the food and beverage industry.