future of protein production with plates with healthy food and protein

Market Focus: Ocean's seven

April 26, 2023

A wave of innovation is emanating from a relatively small alt seafood category and – as Nick Bradley learns – with it hope for a better future. Here we meet a select few entrepreneurs looking to transform this vital part of the food system

Unsustainable fishing practices have obliterated fisheries in recent decades, a problem both for biodiversity as well as the many millions of people who rely on the ocean for income and food. More sustainable sources of seafood are therefore a prerequisite to meet the demand from a growing global population that is on track to hit 10 billion people by 2050.

Plant-based seafood alternatives that look and taste like the ‘reel deal’ are gaining traction, though, while cruelty-free cultivated products could also be on our dinner plates far sooner than other meat alternatives due to slightly less complex regulatory pathways. All this and more has led to some folks who pay close attention to the finless fish sector believing alternative seafoods are the cusp of huge growth.

But what about the gatekeepers – the all-important consumer? The Good Food Institute published some follow-up research in August 2022 looking at perspectives on alternative seafoods in Japan, Thailand, Sinagpore and South Korea – key catchment areas for seafood globally. Its first such study, in 2020, focused on the US consumer. In both reports, the barriers to alternative seafood consumption was analyzed, and the results highlighted which consumer groups are interested in alternative seafood and why, offering key insights for industry players to better appeal to potential consumers and propel the entire industry forward.

Barriers to adoption

Although concern about taste was a leading barrier in all countries, lack of availability and concerns around the ‘naturalness’ and ‘freshness’ of products were also leading hurdles. In the USA, ‘texture’ was a close second to ‘taste’ for both plant-based and cultivated seafood whereas it was less important for most of the Asian countries, which tended to rank naturalness and freshness concerns as more prominent.

Such concerns are not lost on innovators in the alternative seafood sector and here we meet seven food-tech companies addressing these barriers in their product development, all while trying to crack scalability and getting the cost of goods down to profitable levels. It isn’t easy. But what’s clear is they all firmly ‘sea and believe’ there to be a role for alternative seafood products in the sustainable seafood equation...


Originally from Denmark, Nikita Michelsen was raised on Sweden’s coast so has seen first-hand how the degradation of our oceans impacts local fishing communities as well as the availability of fresh seafood.

“Factors such as warming ocean temperatures, microplastics, contaminants, pharmaceuticals, and disease, all have an impact on filter feeders and entire ecosystems,” suggests the Founder & CEO of the Raleigh, North Carolina-based, Pearlita Foods, which surfaced to much acclaim in 2022 with a cell-cultured plant-based oyster.

Developing plant-based alternatives to seafood is a “crucial step in addressing these issues” and “giving the ocean a chance to recover naturally and organically”, believes Michelsen. “Overfishing and destructive methods such as dredging have put enormous pressure on the ocean’s resources, making seafood less accessible and more expensive over time,” she adds. “We hope to help reduce this pressure.”

Pearlita stands out in the alt seafood crowd by not only focusing its R&D efforts on shellfish but also by combining plant-based and cell-cultured technologies to bring to market hybrid products that look and taste as close to the real thing as the very latest biotechnologies will allow. Last year, a cell-cultured oyster prototype was announced, featuring a mushroom and seaweed base that, for authenticity, even came replete with a biodegradable shell that could be opened just like a real oyster yet without the need for a shucking knife. Michelsen says Pearlita will soon turn its attention to squid and scallops, too.

Shell shocks

So, why shellfish and why, specifically, oysters? For starters, oyster reefs are among the most imperiled marine habitats on the planet, with 85-90% of wild reefs lost over the past century alone. Americans also eat roughly two billion of them every year. Pearlita’s goal, then, is to supplement sustainable aquaculture practices and contribute to reducing what Michelsen says is a growing demand-supply gap. “We strive to offer a sustainable and scalable solution to the increasing demand for seafood without harming the environment,” she says.

Pearlita’s team spent countless months conducting experiments and trusted tastings with consumers, chefs, and restaurants to recreate the perfect texture, appearance, and taste. On that very topic, Michelsen highlights a recent milestone as especially significant. “Our plant-based oysters will be available at the highly regarded James Beard-nominated restaurant, Fern, in the city of Charlotte in April. We are excited to see them gaining traction and making a positive impact in the culinary world.”

Michelsen concedes that one of the challenges in development is making alternative seafood taste fresh like the sea yet without the fishy off-taste. “Additionally,” she adds, “seafood has in recent years gotten the reputation of being the healthiest protein – the main reason pescatarian diets gained in popularity.

“Unfortunately,” she continues, “as the state of the ocean declines due to human intervention, health benefits are challenged by contaminants and disease.”

Warnings range from contracting the foodborne illness, vibriosis, to mercury. “Consumer education around this area will be a challenge and I believe transparency in both ingredients and processing will be key to overcome it,” says Michelsen.

If alternative seafoods are to really take off, though, they will need to be a readily available product on the shelf next to traditional seafood. For that to happen, Michelsen says we need solid taste, to reach price parity, be easily accessible, and make sure that consumers get all the nutrients they need. “The cool thing about alternative proteins is that we will be able to make more nutrient-dense products and ensure consistently great-tasting seafood whenever you want it, without seasonal or geographical limitations.”

By providing an alternative, we see ourselves as allies in meeting the growing consumer demand for seafood without putting further strain on the environment and ecosystem

On the topic of cost, Michelsen is pleased to disclose that Pearlita’s plant-based offerings have already reached price parity with their wild and farmed equivalents. “We achieved that by strategically choosing premium-priced proteins, which are typically served in smaller sizes due to their high price point, and complex and unique flavor profile.”

Oysters have long been ubiquitous along the North Carolina coast and the Tar Heel State’s oyster industry is growing, with both wild-caught and farm-raised oysters on the increase. But what does the conventional sector think of this new alternative that Pearlita is developing? “During our R&D process, we have worked closely with shellfish farmers, and to our surprise, they have expressed enthusiasm for our products,” Michelsen reveals. “They recognize that climate change is significantly impacting their industry and support seafood alternatives.”

While she laments the growing demand for shellfish, Michelsen suggests current practices are only meeting roughly 25% of that demand. “By providing an alternative, we see ourselves as allies in meeting the growing consumer demand for seafood without putting any further strain on the environment and ecosystem.”

Michelsen also believes we must consider the potential negative impacts on seagrass growth and carbon capture. “Oyster farming usually results in a net removal of nutrients from the water column, leading to reduced phytoplankton blooms and, subsequently, lower oxygen levels,” she says. “Oysters also compete with other organisms, such as seagrasses, for space and nutrients.”

Globally, seagrass captures carbon up to 35 times faster than rainforests and accounts for 10-18% of total ocean carbon storage despite covering less than 0.1% of the seafloor. But it is highly sensitive to changes in water quality and can be negatively impacted by excess nutrients, sedimentation, and shading. “In areas where oyster farming is prevalent, such as the Chesapeake Bay in Virginia, seagrass populations have declined significantly. This decline is likely due to nutrient removal by oysters.”

A founder’s driving forces can be many and varied, but Michelsen simply believes animals have a greater purpose way beyond just being a source of food. Oysters can live up to 20 years in the wild yet are typically harvested in farms after only a year. “They have the capability to continue supporting ecosystems for many more years – allowing natural habitats to recover and bring in more biodiversity. So, restoration and conserving biodiversity for future generations is a main driver for me becoming a reducetarian and creating alternative seafood solutions.”


“One of the things that excites me about alternative seafood is it decouples the demand for seafood from proximity to a body of water,” says Anne Palermo, the Co-founder & CEO of the Chicago, USA-based Aqua Cultured Foods, creator of whole-muscle-cut sushi-quality seafood alternatives. “That’s an incredible value to landlocked states and countries,” she believes.

For those who don’t know, Aqua is working on calamari, shrimp, scallops, and filets of tuna and whitefish with mycoprotein fermentation processes that do not use any animal inputs, genetic altering or modification. Unlike plant-based processed foods formulated with starches and protein isolates, Aqua’s alt seafood retains its naturally occurring fiber, protein, and other micronutrients. Minced ‘seafood’ fillings are also produced for dumplings, ravioli, and sushi rolls.

This year has been marked by many big wins for the food-tech startup. At the start of April, it announced a whopping raise of US$5.5 million in seed funding and despite how that cash will help the company accelerate its overall ambitions, Palermo pinpoints the “unparalleled success” that Aqua has enjoyed with its tastings as special milestones. “They have enabled us to hone in on which products are most in demand and will allow us to laser-focus on bringing these hyper-realistic products to market at an accelerated pace,” she says.

But why seafood instead of another meat alternative? “The seafood supply chain is causing some of the most devastating environmental problems of our time,” she continues. “Oceans and coastal regions are more important for maintaining a livable planet than even rainforests. When we consider we have nearly depleted wild fish, we’re not only looking at an environmental catastrophe – we are facing a global food crisis that could spell mass starvation.”

Proprietary processes

Similar to most other founders in this sector, Palermo is pretty tight-lipped when it comes to trade secrets – after all, they’re secrets. “We’re using a proprietary strain of microbe, and our production methods are also proprietary,” she says apologetically, not giving too much away. “Our type of fermentation yields a whole, unprocessed food. Products are grown as opposed to manufactured. Our ingredient panel will be clean and simple (and non-GMO). We have also developed a way to add plant-based Omega-3s to match conventional seafood.”

Oceans and coastal regions are more important for maintaining a livable planet than even rainforests

Fermentation is a highly resource- and energy-efficient way to produce protein. Aqua uses a vertical configuration that is very space-efficient, so a lot of product can be made in a small footprint. “We use standard off-the-shelf lab equipment, not bioreactors. We can set up production nearly anywhere in the world where there’s sufficient infrastructure like water, electricity, and transportation networks.”

Aqua’s biggest challenge, though, has been achieving that realistic texture. “It’s vital in seafood alternatives, and the bar is much higher than, say, for a burger or a chicken nugget,” Palermo says.

“I had to develop completely new methods to achieve the delicate textures I was looking for. Much of the plant-based seafood that’s currently available is based on either starches or legumes. Starches such as konjac might create a look and feel that’s reminiscent of seafood, but these products lack nutrients – namely protein – that people expect from a center-of-the-plate product.” In alternative proteins, Palermo adds, an “appropriate protein content should be a minimum requirement”.

Products made with legumes such as soy, pea, and their isolates have an acceptable protein level but those ingredients “add potent off-flavors” such as green and beany notes that “need to be masked with additives such as sodium”. Palermo says this makes them less appealing to a lot of health-conscious eaters. “And these products can only deliver texture for formats like a crab cake or a fish stick – essentially a seafood-flavored veggie burger.”

Ultimately, Palermo thinks consumers will be more accepting of alternative seafood than they might be of other alternative meats. “They have already shown they are very willing to change their seafood consumption habits based on new information, such as the movement toward ‘dolphin-safe’ tuna and the concerns around microplastics,” she says.  

Going forward, though, Palermo suggests the alternative seafood category needs to move towards ultra-realsitic whole cuts. “That’s proven complicated for both plant-based and cell-cultured categories, and is another area where fermentation technology may have an edge because our production system grows mycoprotein as a mass. In theory, it could even be used for other muscle meat analogs such as a whole-cut ‘chicken’ breasts.”


The global seafood market reached a value of more than US$257 billion in 2022 and is projected to hit roughly US$350 billion by 2027. Scallops make up around US$8 billion of that total.  

They are traditionally harvested by dredging sea floors – an invasive and indiscriminate technique that sees a heavy metal-toothed bar dragged along the seabed, resulting in huge damage to habitats in the process. “This is the most hazardous fishing practice that there is,” suggests Daniel Einhorn, Co-founder & CEO of the Israeli startup, Mermade Seafoods, which is developing a cultivated scallop in response. “Dredging scoops anything and everything in its path, with significant bycatch, leaving scorched ecosystems in its wake.”

Meanwhile, more ‘sustainable’ and ‘ethical’ scallop farms – which culture scallops in cages or nets – still suffer from issues such as scale, economics, disease, availability and predictability.  

Scallops are hugely popular but the demand for them has led to worldwide overfishing and many scallop fisheries have collapsed in recent decades. There is clearly an appetite for a new approach to supply the demand.

Founded in July 2021 by Einhorn, Dr Rotem Kadir (CTO), and Dr Tomer Halevy (COO), Mermade refers to itself as a ‘cellular aquaculture’ company. “Seafood is both the biggest meat market and the most underserved,” Einhorn believes. “Even though it is utterly tapped out, placing an immense pressure on aquatic habitats, the demand is still significantly larger than supply, with traditional aquaculture having a hard time to keep up.

Ultimately, 3.3 billion people rely on seafood as their primary animal protein source, and we wanted to solve a big problem that would result in an undeniable big change

“Seafood also has such a big variety of offerings – there’s just a sea of opportunity to differentiate,” says Einhorn. “Ultimately, 3.3 billion people rely on seafood as their primary animal protein source, and we wanted to solve a big problem that would result in an undeniable big change.”

Investors see huge promise in the Mermade method. In August 2022, the Jerusalem-based company raised US$3.3 million in a seed round of funding. Such enthusiasm is attributed to the company’s process that addresses one of the major costs in cultivating alternative proteins: the price of the medium in which the cells grow. In a nutshell – or seashell in this case – Mermade takes biowaste made of water, ammonia and carbon dioxide to feed algae, which is then used as the growth medium to sustain and manufacture the scallops’ cells. With several patent applications filed for this proprietary technique, it could bring down the costs of cultivated cell production by up to 90%, and may even be transferred to other proteins and industries, including pharma.

“We are the only company in the world that recycles growth medium, creating an efficient, sustainable, and elegant solution to the problems of production costs and sustainability at scale,” says Einhorn. “We turn cell culture waste back into useful medium ingredients in a proprietary organic method, which ensures any input entering our system is maximally used, resulting in much higher yield.”

Nutritional value

The process also yields some nutritional benefits, as Einhorn explains further. “The backbone of micronutrients in seafood actually comes from plankton or microalgae,” he says. “These form the basis of aquatic food chains. What’s wonderful about our process is that microalgae are built in, so even though their primary function is to recover and build new animal cell culture medium, they also give us the added benefit of rare important micronutrients such as Omega-3 fatty acids.

“We’re in a field that is completely new,” Einhorn adds, referring not only to the cell-based industry as a whole but also shellfish cell culture and algae-based cellular aquaponics. “It feels as if every day we’re discovering something exciting that has never seen before. There’s the continual challenge of improving cell culture performance over previously known limitations. Our philosophy, though, is to listen to as much advice as possible and find a place for every opinion. We allow for trial and error and that gives our scientists the freedom to experiment and fail without professional risk. There’s a delicate balance of focus: between not leaving enough room for serendipity and random walking. But I think we do it really well at Mermade.”


Ofek Ron has now been vegan for 11 years, ever since he became aware of the cruelty and injustice in the animal-agriculture industry. “The more I learned about the suffering, the more committed I became to living a vegan lifestyle,” says the CEO of the Israeli food-tech startup Plantish. “It was a personal decision, but it has also informed much of the work that we do here at Plantish.”

Fish are slaughtered more than any other animal yet there is still no ‘Beyond’ or ‘Impossible’ in the alternative seafood category, Ron points out. “We felt there was an opportunity to make a positive impact in this area by creating a plant-based seafood that could help reduce the demand for animal-based products.

“We are currently focusing on salmon, the most popular fish in the world,” Ron continues. “Unfortunately, salmon also has a high mortality rate and has almost disappeared from many rivers. There are significant conservation concerns associated with wild salmon populations, including overfishing, habitat destruction, and climate change.”

At the same time, the farmed salmon industry has grown exponentially since it began in the 1960s, and today approximately 70% of salmon produced worldwide is farmed. In 2021, more than 2.8 million tons of farmed ‘salmonids’ were produced, while only around 705,000 tons of wild salmonids were caught.

That farming, though, has wreaked ruin on marine ecosystems, through pollution, parasites and the high fish mortality rates already cited by Ron. This, combined with the predicted increased demand for seafood in the future, doesn’t paint a very pretty environmental picture.

Plantish, almost out of nowhere, has made huge strides into offering a viable, more sustainable and ethical alternative, helped not least by a US$12.45 million seed fund raise in early 2022, which at the time was the largest seed round of its kind in the alt-seafood market.

Ofek Ron, the 'Champ' (CEO) of Israel's Plantish

“We have received a lot of interest from both consumers and traditional fish producers who are looking to get involved in the plant-based seafood industry,” says Ron. “Many consumers are excited to try our products. Traditional fish producers are also interested as they recognize the need for change in the industry and see it as an opportunity to innovate.”

The wow factor

But what is that makes Plantish so special ? Well, its whole salmon fillets are produced using a patent-pending additive manufacturing technique to produce the fillets at scale before being ‘cooked’ in the same way as conventional salmon. That funding boost received in 2022 allowed Ron to accelerate Plantish’s R&D efforts to further develop its products and build the team, before aiming to launch in fine dining restaurants by 2024.

According to Ron, though, the most innovative aspect of the Plantish product is not necessarily the additive manufacturing, but that the company has discovered a way to work with textures without the use of methylcellulose. “Traditionally, methylcellulose has been used in plant-based seafood products to create the right texture, but we felt that there had to be a better way,” he says.

Traditional fish producers are also interested in alternative seafood because they recognize the need for change

“We hired mechanical engineering talent to work closely with our biochemists to create equipment that is tailored for our product. This was a major technical breakthrough for us, creating a product that truly competes with animal-based seafood not just in terms of texture but taste and nutritional value,” Ron reveals.

Plantish uses plant-based proteins from legumes and algae-sourced Omega-3s to engineer the nutritional benefits of conventional salmon into its products. “To achieve this, we carefully select and combine plant-based ingredients to ensure that our products contain the necessary amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that are found in conventional seafood.”

Fish being ‘perceived’ by consumers as necessary for a healthy diet is actually also one of the challenges that Ron, his team and many others in alternative seafood face in encouraging takeup.

“Many people associate fish with Omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for heart health, but they are not aware that these nutrients can also be obtained from plant-based sources,” Ron says.

“Ultimately, the plant-based/cell-based seafood space will become more and more mainstream in the coming years,” he concludes. “As consumers become more aware of the impact of their food choices on the environment and animal welfare, they will look for alternative protein sources. The plant-based seafood industry is still in its early stages, but we are seeing more companies entering the market and more investment flowing into the space. With time and innovation, we will see more products that closely mimic conventional seafood and become more affordable, making them accessible to a wider audience.”


A ‘Forbes 30 Under 30’ alumni, Michelle Wolf co-founded New Wave Foods with the goal of building a portfolio of great tasting, plant-based seafoods, starting with shrimp. But why shrimp? “It’s one of the most consumed seafoods in the world and a bit of a poster child for the issues we face in the seafood supply chain,” Wolf says.

“The main problem lies in volume – after beef and chicken production, shrimp is the third-largest emitter of GHGs.”

It’s clear to see why that’s the case. Shrimp production in 2022 surpassed 5.011 million metric tons, up from 4.569 million metric tons in 2021. Asian countries produce the most – roughly 65% comes from the region followed by the Americas, which produce around 30%. The worrying trend, though, is the rate of growth. Shrimp production in 2015 didn’t even hit three million metric tons.

Trying to create a shrimp flavor without using shrimp and using all natural ingredients was difficult

“Whenever you take out a mangrove to put in a shrimp farm, you’re releasing all this carbon – and this great ecosystem that’s actually filtering our oceans, helping reduce acidification, you’re removing that, too,” Wolf explains. “Shrimp farms also only have around a five-year shelf life before you’re moving down the coastline to start the whole process all over again.”

Notably, 80% of shrimp is consumed in food-service. Wolf is therefore aiming to disrupt the US$9 billion dollar shrimp market with the introduction of her plant-based shrimp made of sustainable seaweed and plant proteins.

New Wave Foods has actually been around since 2015. “We spent quite a few years in R&D, perfecting the product,” Wolf says. “People love the texture of shrimp. You have this firm bite going into it and then a burst of flavor. Trying to recapture that was a challenge, even defining what those flavors were – there’s umami, saltiness, but there’s a fresh ocean flavor, too. Trying to create a shrimp flavor without using shrimp and using all natural ingredients was difficult.”

Labeling and ingredients

When it comes to the thorny topic of labeling, Wolf admits New Wave Foods didn’t struggle. “I think a big part of that was putting guardrails around the number of ingredients early on,” she reveals. “Having a wide-open development plan can be to your disservice rather than putting structure around it because it forces you to be a little bit more creative.

”We use a seaweed-derived ingredient that gives the texture and then we use a mung bean for the protein content. And then we add some ingredients that help mouth-feel such as sunflower oil and some natural flavors to round off the profile.”

The end product, Wolf explains, was developed to be ready to heat as opposed to ready to cook, food-service clearly being a target market. “They have many challenges, such as labor and skills shortages, so we wanted to make sure our offering was easy to go from freezer to plate – they don’t want to be messing around with special cooking processes or in some cases getting special equipment.”

The team’s biggest challenge was scaling. New Wave Foods chose to work with a manufacturing partner. “When you start factoring in a third party, such as a co-manufacturer, that creates multiple levels of complexity,” Wolf reports. “And it was a longer process than I expected.” Ultimately, though, she lauds anyone who has managed to get their products onto market, regardless of the route taken. “It’s really significant because it’s not easy with novel or plant-based foods.”

Targeting food-service also makes perfect sense. “Something in the region of 70-80% of folks go outside of home to eat seafood,” Wolf says. “But there are also a lot of influencers and chefs who are big voices for the plant-based sector, so feeding into restaurants is strategic from that standpoint, too.”

So, the big question: any chance that we might be seeing New Wave Foods’ shrimp on our supermarket shelves anytime soon? “We are working on plans for retail and will be excited to discuss this with you later in the year,” Wolf says.

Ultimately, though, for plant-based foods to succeed, alternative seafood included, cost will continue to be a major factor. “We’re living in a time of unprecedented inflation and the pockets of Gen Alpha and Gen Z, in particular [the demographic who are most willing to give up conventional meat] are not very deep right now. To really get people to start adopting these products and for them to become mainstream, price is going to be something to focus on. And that’s why we continue to innovate in our production processes, to bring those costs down.”


Loki Foods hails from the shores of Iceland – often referred to as the seafood capital of the world – where the bar for quality, delicious and nutritious seafood is “unmatched”, according to Christopher McClure, a vegan of 17 years and CEO of the Reykjavik-based food-tech company. “No-one consumes more seafood per capita than Iceland – we regularly eat it five to seven times a week,” he says. “But the bar for plant based is also incredibly high – we have a huge plant-based community here, and also the world’s largest fully vegan grocery store.”

In early 2022, Loki Foods – the name stems from Old Norse mythology and the ‘trickster God’ who shapeshifted into many forms, fish included – raised US$650,000 in seed funding. McClure and his team put that to good use.

In late 2022, the firm unveiled its first product, the Loki Fillet, a plant-based white fish alternative to cod, high in protein, Cmega-3s and Omega-6s, but also containing vitamins and a natural color. More recently, in mid-April 2023, Loki announced it had opened its first scale facility in Kópavogur.

Christopher McClure, CEO of Loki Foods

McClure’s journey into food-tech began while completing his Master’s and PHD in Public Health, within which there was a focus on food and environmental health. Career-wise, he progressed into biotech via some medical and pharma companies, as well as some research organizations.

Overall, though, he is passionate about sustainability and thinks that if our planet’s land areas were in the same state of affairs as our oceans, we would already be “living in a dystopian society”.

Cod squad

There is a reason for focusing on white fish. Atlantic cod is the most iconic fish species for Iceland, and plays a major role in the Icelandic marine ecosystem and also its economy. “We supply something in the region of 1.5-2% of the global catch of seafood and around 50% of that is white fish and cod specifically, but if we see a half-degree change in the ocean temperatures around Iceland – which will happen – cod is going to migrate away from these shores.”

McClure believes the North Atlantic country can lead the way in alternative seafoods in the same way it has for so long in conventional seafood. But fish is a tricky thing to emulate with plants – not just in terms of taste and texture but mouth-feel, functionality, nutrition, and appearance, he notes. “There are certainly easier species to mimic – we haven’t opted for a low-hanging fruit. We chose to develop our product from the stance of functionality and nutrition first and foremost.”

With our analog, there are no toxins, microplastics and heavy metals, commonly found in caught seafood

Functionality is especially important. McClure says the classic Icelandic way of cooking cod is in the pan, whole with onions, butter and oil. The Loki team also wanted to produce a product that could be battered, breaded and deep-fried – and one that could be cooked by professional chefs as well regular folks at home in the kitchen. “Up to a point, we don’t want to dictate how it’s used,” McClure says. “But it tastes just as you would expect white fish to taste.”

And on that note, the taste tests so far have stood out as special moments for the team. “The feedback we have received has been immense, even in the early stages,” McClure enthuses. “It’s not just vegans, but people with fish allergies, and people who simply want to reduce their real fish intake. The bar for this type of a product among Icelanders is especially high.”

McClure and his colleagues, including Björn Adalbjörnsson, Co-founder & CSO, also see other benefits. “With our analog, there are no toxins, microplastics and heavy metals, commonly found in caught seafood,” he says. In addition, Loki Foods is using 100% renewable energy. And

local ingredients are also used for its plant-based filet whenever possible.

This sustainable fish alternative, produced in a sustainable way – in one of the most sustainable countries in the world – could very well end up being a savior for Iceland’s economy in the future, as well as for the ecosystem.


“At first, I didn’t think I had any business being involved in a food-tech startup,” jokes Chris Bryson, the CEO of the Toronto, Canada-based New School Foods, which emerged out of stealth recently with a US$12 million seed round. “I’m not a food scientist; I’m not an engineer – I don’t even really like to cook! I first got involved in this industry as an angel investor back in 2018, the heyday of Beyond Meat and Impossible. I thought that was how I could best contribute to the transformation of factory farming, which was something I was passionate about.”

During his investigations, what Bryson noticed was – time and time again – most startups weren’t being encouraged to invest in R&D. “You ended up with a lot of companies creating a lot of ‘me-too’ products, using the same ingredients, same processing technology, and that inevitably leads to a lot of missed expectations,” he feels. “We primarily started out as a holding company sponsoring different R&D projects in the hope we would uncover something exciting that we could turn into what you could call a more standard company.”

Developing the technology wasn’t an overnight thing – it’s been a case of incremental discoveries to get to where we are today

Explaining why he then chose to focus on alternative salmon, in particular, Bryson reveals it is North America’s most highly consumed species of fish – and second most-consumed seafood after shrimp. “As well as being a highly consumed and desirable center-of-plate dish, it’s a difficult one to tackle. Developing the technology wasn’t an overnight thing – it’s been a case of incremental discoveries to get to where we are today, and we still have more work to do.

Different strokes

“What’s different about the way we produce our product is that we don’t use extrusion,” continues Bryson, which uses heat and pressure to transform the appearance of an end product. Instead, he and his team have recreated the structure of a salmon filet, including aligned muscle fibers, connective tissue, fats, and other components, using proprietary muscle fiber and scaffolding technologies.

“We knew right away we needed our product to look like the product it’s going to emulate. And if we use extrusion, we’re not going to produce something that looks like raw fish. So, we pioneered a technology that would allow us to create structure or the muscle fibers but using the opposite of heat. We are freezing to imbue texture into our products. When we create our scaffolds, we’re using a mix of different ingredients, which are typically called hydrocolloids. And sometimes we’ll mix those with other ingredients. What we’ve been able to figure out in the lab is that for some applications, hydrocolloids are good for other applications, others might be more suitable, and not every single one of them works.”

When Bryson and his team asked consumers what they were looking for in a plant-based analog, he says there were two things especially that cropped up. “Omega-3s and protein,” he says. “The reality is a lot of plant-based seafood analogs out there don’t have any protein. Getting a high degree of protein is something our scaffolds allow for.” Plant proteins are added to the scaffold, and these range from canola to pea and potato, selected based on their appearance, nutrition and relatively neutral taste.

Before entering food-tech, Bryson founded a grocery e-commerce company, Unata, which he sold to Instacart. “In software, if you imagine something, then you can put it on paper, you can design it,” he says, when asked about the biggest challenges he has faced in developing his salmon product. “And if you can design it, you can code it, you can build it, you can launch it, and put it in front of your customer. Food doesn’t work that way.

“If you imagine it, that’s great. But you have the laws of chemistry and physics to fight against. Just fighting through the R&D is tough because you can be on to something incredible – and it feels like it checks nine out of 10 boxes – but then you find out that it has this fundamental flaw, such as it relies on an ingredient that is either not approved or not cost effective. I know we had some early prototypes that didn’t have heat stability, for example. So, when you cooked it, the scaffolds melted away. You just have to persevere and make sure you leave no stone unturned. At the end of the day, hopefully you’ll be rewarded. But there’s no guarantee either.

Behavior change

“I think for this entire industry, the consumer is really the gatekeeper. What we’re trying to pull off is not just creating new products, we’re actually trying to create habit change and I think there’s a big distinction. Behavior change is really difficult to accomplish, and I have seen this in e-commerce, too.

“We’re trying to stay as laser-focused as possible on bringing our product to market,” Bryson adds. “And that starts with getting our pilot production facility up and running. Our process is novel, it’s different – we can’t necessarily set that

up with a co-manufacturer today. But we’re really excited by that because, in turn, it gives us the freedom and the flexibility to optimize, optimize, optimize, both in terms of economics as well as quality of the product. We’re looking to bring the product to market next year. That’s all we’re thinking about.”

This article is republished from the April/May 2023 edition of Protein Production Technology International, the world's leading magazine focused on the development of alternative proteins. To receive future issues hot off the digital press free of charge, please click here

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