Plant-based “vegan seafood” sales on the rise

Americans are eating healthier food, in many cases by adding fish and shellfish to their diets. And a small but growing number are seeking out and buying plant-based proteins for the sake of their health.

According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report, Americans increased their annual seafood consumption to 15.5 pounds of fish and shellfish per person in 2015, up nearly a pound from the previous year. At the same time, global sales of meat substitutes reached USD 4 billion (EUR 3.8 billion) in 2016, up 42 percent from 2010, according to a report from Markets and Markets.

Now, some manufacturers have figured out a way for shoppers to get the best of both worlds.

Sophie’s Kitchen in Sebastopol, California is a “vegan seafood” company. It came about when Eugene Wang, founder and CEO, found out that his daughter, Sophie, was severely allergic to seafood. Soon after, he became concerned about the availability of seafood to future generations, given dwindling levels of some popular species.

Wang and his food manufacturing company developed a line of shelf-stable, refrigerated and frozen vegan seafood items made from konjac, a mineral-rich plant that has almost zero calories and is high in dietary fiber. The Sophie’s Kitchen line now includes canned Vegan Toona in sea salt and black pepper flavors, along with frozen breaded vegan crab cakes, fish fillets, scallops, shrimp, non-breaded coconut shrimp, smoked salmon, lobster mac and cheese and seafood jambalaya.

In North America, the products are distributed in natural food chains such as Whole Foods Market and Sprouts and are gaining distribution in supermarket chains such as Wegmans and Safeway.

The Vegan Toona has been the company’s biggest hit in U.S. stores since its introduction two years ago, Wang said. It sells for an average of USD 5.99 (EUR 5.64) per can.

“The number one reason [for its growth] is that tuna is such an item that a number of vegans and vegetarians miss,” Wang told SeafoodSource.

The company’s lobster mac and cheese, which retails for a suggested USD 5.99 (EUR 5.63) per 8.8-ounce package, was just rolled out this fall and is slowly gaining distribution, as is its jambalaya.

“We offer the first [frozen] seafood meals. Convenience is really important to the growing number of consumers who are previously meat-eaters or those who seek out non-animal proteins from time to time,” Wang said.

Sophei’s Kitchen Smoked Salmon is sold frozen, but retailers can place it in the refrigerated case by other smoked salmon products or near tofu and other vegan or vegetarian items, depending on their selling strategy for the product, Wang said.

“A lot of people like salmon for the holidays, so some retailers are stocking vegan salmon next to the salmon so people have choices, and are able to serve their guests both vegan salmon and regular salmon,” Wang said.

In the U.S., Gardein sells Golden Fishless Filet and Mini Crabless Cakes and May Wah sells several vegetarian and vegan seafood items, including vegetarian salmon, vegan tuna, vegan shrimp balls and vegan fish balls. Monrovia, California-based VegeUSA also sells Vegetarian Plus vegan fish fillets and vegan shrimp.

Other vegan and vegetarian seafood products on the market internationally include vegan prawns, made by Veggie World in Buckinghamshire, in the United Kingdom. At the 2015 PETA U.K. Vegan Food Awards, the manufacturer’s veggie prawns earned the “Best Faux Seafood” award.


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