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Next Food Frontier: Fish made from plants, or in a lab

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As of June, 2021, 83 companies were producing alt-seafood products around the world, a nearly three-fold rise since 2017. All but 18 of those companies focus on plant-based products.

MIKE IVES: Plant-based products have been breaking into the foodie mainstream in the United States, after years in which vegan burgers and milk alternatives hovered on the market’s periphery… Now, as sophisticated fish alternatives begin to attract investment and land at restaurants in the U.S. and beyond, people who track the fishless fish sector say that it could be on the cusp of significant growth.

One reason, they say, is that consumers in rich countries are becoming more aware of the seafood industry’s environmental problems, including overfishing and the health risks of some seafood. Another is that today’s plant-based startups do a better job of approximating fish flavor and texture than earlier ones did — an important consideration for non-vegetarians. ..

People who scale back their consumption of animal proteins for environmental reasons often stop eating red meat, which requires enormous amounts of land and water to cultivate and belches a lot of methane as a byproduct.

But alt-fish advocates say that seafood also comes with environmental problems. Unsustainable fishing practices have decimated fisheries in recent decades, a problem both for biodiversity and the millions of people who depend on the sea for income and food…

So far, plant-based seafood products in the U.S. account for only 0.1% of the country’s seafood sales, less than the 1.4% of the U.S. meat market occupied by plant-based meat alternatives, according to the Good Food Institute.

But alt-seafood ventures worldwide received at least $83 million from investors in 2020, compared with $1 million three years earlier, according to the institute’s data. As of this June, 83 companies were producing alt-seafood products around the world, a nearly threefold rise since 2017.

All but 18 of those 83 companies focus on plant-based products. Six others, including a French startup that makes smoked salmon from microalgae, specialize in proteins derived from fermentation. A dozen others are developing lab-grown seafood, which is not yet commercially available in any country…

Of the 65 companies currently producing plant-based seafood products, 47 are outside the U.S., according to the Good Food Institute. People in the industry say the Asia Pacific region is a logical place to anticipate significant growth because it already consumes more than two-thirds of the world’s fish, according to a United Nations estimate…

The next frontier is lab-grown seafood, in which edible products are grown from real cells in a lab. That technology is still a ways off from retail sales and broad commercialization, though perhaps not as far as many consumers would assume. So far the only company selling cultivated protein of any kind is Eat Just, a San Francisco startup whose cultured chicken nuggets were approved for sale in Singapore late last year. SOURCE…

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