PLANT-BASED FISH PRODUCTS:
USING EXISTING EXPERTISE FOR VEGANTREND
BettaF!sh? TU-NAH? Fish from the field? No, neither people with a spelling deficiency nor a lack of biology knowledge were involved in these name creations. The product names are part of the vegan wave that has now reached the fish processing industry after the meat industry. Already in 2020, the trend was visible at the fish international trade fair in Bremen. In February 2024, more exhibitors will present ideas, developments and products for plant-based alternatives to preparations made from fish. “We are currently witnessing the emergence of a new product area in the fish industry,” says Sabine Wedell, project manager fish international at Messe Bremen, the only fish trade fair in Germany: “The number and range of products is growing, plus the taste is improving.”
VEGAN PRODUCTS ARE FULLY IN TREND
The list of vegan alternatives to fish products and marine delicacies is growing. In the meantime, thuna and salmon sashimi, vegan baked fish, kibberlinge and also a type of caviar, as well as a number of other product developments, are on the market. In retail and food service, you can also find preparations such as chopsticks, fish fingers, burgers, crabcakes and fish fillets, as well as plant-based tuna in various (salad) variations. Demand is already high, and the trend is upward.
The start-up BettaF!sh is one of the youngest providers of vegan fish alternatives in Germany. With the “TU-NAH” sandwiches, the young Berlin entrepreneurs just developed a vegan alternative to the well-known classic, whose topping comes very close in texture and taste to the model of a paste made from actual tuna. And consumers like it: in mid-October 2022, the Aldi chains North and South took the product into a total of 4,000 stores. BettaF!sh supplied a total of five tons. “Half of the product was sold within two days,” says a delighted Deniz Ficicioglu, who founded the company together with Jacob von Manteuffel.
THE NEW “ORGANIC”: VEGAN FISH
BettaF!sh’s corporate philosophy and product base are representative of other suppliers and illustrate that the development of plant-based alternatives should be in the fishing industry’s very own interest. “The issue of overfishing and the need for sustainable food production will concern us much more in the future than it does today,” Deniz Ficicioglu is certain. “Accordingly, the fishing industry will also have to offer alternatives to complement its core products.” In addition, the Berlin entrepreneur is convinced that the market for vegan products will grow fundamentally in the near future: “We are at the beginning of a trend that will soon boom like ‘organic’ did a few years ago.”
SEAWEED AS A BASIS FOR VEGAN FOODS
Vegan alternatives to meat usually use vegetable proteins from wheat or peas, for example. The two Berlin founders, on the other hand, are deliberately opting for a maritime variant. Their TU-NAH is based on algae grown in a fjord in Norway by an expert from the salmon industry. Before founding BettaF!sh, Jacob von Manteuffel had already spent several years working with seaweed as a basis for food. However, factors such as taste, omega3 fatty acid content or consistency were not the only arguments in favor of its use in the tuna alternative, as well as in the vegan sea salads “Oceanfruit” also produced by BettaF!sh: “The production of seaweed can offer fishermen and fish farmers an alternative in the long term if fishing and fish farming have to be further restricted, as is already becoming apparent,” emphasizes von Manteuffel. In this way, he says, the fishing industry can use its traditional skills for new products such as vegan products and secure its own future in the long term.
REAL FISH FLAVOR WITHOUT SOY OR FLAVOR ENHANCERS
However, the development of vegan alternatives to fish requires a targeted approach. One of the product pioneers is Frosta, a frozen food manufacturer based in Bremerhaven, Germany, which launched “fish from the field” a good year ago. “Our requirement was to get as close as possible to the taste, texture and nutritional values of the fish role models with the new products,” reports brand manager Caroline Wilm. Like BettaF!sh, Frosta places high demands on the sustainability of the product: “Specifically, this meant that we did without soy, for example.” For vegan alternatives, there is also a principle: “Many consumers are now thinking about giving up animal products – but not the taste they are used to.”
For the Bremerhaven-based company, a special challenge was added: “The taste of our vegan products should not be created in the laboratory, but through natural ingredients,” says Caroline Wilm. A dish composed with flavors, flavor enhancers, colorants and preservatives was out of the question for Frosta. It took the product developers one and a half years to create a tasty alternative to classic fish sticks and gourmet fillets from salsify with the help of hemp seed protein and linseed oil, which also contains the necessary protein and omega-3 content. Just like BettaF!sh, the Bremerhaveners met with great interest on the part of the trade: “That’s why the fishing industry is well advised to discover the vegan theme for itself,” emphasizes Caroline Wilm. The trend is unstoppable, she says: “If we don’t get involved ourselves, others who may have nothing to do with fish at all will occupy this field.”