Lotus Seafood leans on new technology to create innovative value-added rice, tuna products

Published on
March 4, 2021

Oceanside, California, U.S.A.-based seafood trader Lotus Seafood is building a new processing plant allowing it to produce a variety of frozen value-added meals. It is also launching an antioxidant-treated ahi tuna for both retail and foodservice.

Lotus, which previously primarily focused on commodity seafood, and its affiliated company Paradox Foods LLC, are nearing the completion of the 35,000-square-foot plant and hope to start production by July.

The new plant will have a capacity to produce 60 million pounds of rice- and grain-based meals annually, Lotus Chief Executive Officer Nick Ovchinnikov told SeafoodSource. The company has plans to produce both private-label products for grocery chains and wholesale clubs and its own Lotus-branded meals, Ovchinnikov said.

The goal is to target the growing market for healthier, value-added seafood meals, according to Ovchinnikov, who said he expects the move to double Lotus’s sales from USD 150 million (EUR 125 million) to around USD 300 million (EUR 249 million) in U.S. sales over the next three years.

The meals will include both seafood and plant-based seafood analog proteins and other grains such as bulgur wheat or cous cous, along with sauces. The ready-to-eat meals, which are 100 percent gluten-free and chemical free, contain 25 percent fewer calories and 75 percent less fat than traditional fried rice entrees, according to Lotus.

“They are rich in vitamins and minerals and are high in dietary fiber,” Ovchinnikov said.

Producing a healthier fried rice line allows Lotus to differentiate its products from large, traditional frozen Asian food manufactures such as Ajinomoto Foods, according to Ovchinnikov. He said he expects retailers like Costco and Trader Joe’s to carry his company’s frozen meals, and he said school districts are also very interested the meals, which are very easy to reheat in the microwave, air fryer, or conventional oven.

“There is a huge shortage of the product on the market. There is not much competition [as] we are more about organic, low-sodium, and gluten-free meals,” Ovchinnikov said.

Lotus’s new plant features “next-generation” equipment that has been developed by a team of engineers, he said, allowing Lotus to quickly produce rice meals without breakage.

“There is a super-low percentage of broken rice during processing,” Ovchinnikov said. “It is very challenging to process consistent quality with long-grain rice, but almost impossible to do it on that scale with basmati-type rice.”

Separately, Lotus is also rolling out a frozen, packaged Antioxidant Tuna Steak product. The tuna can be sold frozen at retail or thawed and sold fresh at the seafood counter. Lotus is also working with sushi restaurant operators that are “very excited” to use the first shipment of tuna, according to Ovchinnikov.

“The fundamental difference of this technology is the use of naturally sourced antioxidants in lieu of poisonous carbon monoxide gas, the usage of which is prohibited in the European Union, Canada, Japan, and Australia,” Lotus Chief Operating Officer Sergey Nikolenko told SeafoodSource.

While “advanced retailers” in the U.S. also want to carry tuna not treated with carbon monoxide, the “natural color of tuna is not very appealing,” Ovchinnikov noted. The safe, antioxidant-treating process allows frozen tuna to retain its color for 18 to 24 months of shelf-life, he said.

The antioxidant processing technology was established by Japanese processors in the early 2000s, helping tuna to retain its natural flesh color for a longer period of time, Nikolenko said.

Retailers and restaurants can charge a slight premium for the tuna – perhaps 10 percent more than regular frozen ahi tuna, he said.

“It’s insignificant. It’s a price range that will be almost invisible, but is acceptable because people want to buy an appealing, nice-colored product,” Ovchinnikov said.

Photo courtesy of Lotus Seafood

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