Picture Credit: Sushi from Aqua Cultured Foods
Why Consumers Are Shifting To Alternative Seafood
By Elaine Lee, Scientific Fellow at Big Idea Ventures
Seafood consumption has a global demand of 143.8 million tonnes per year. But in 2018, the United Nations warned us that “the world’s fish consumption is unsustainable”. And in recent years there has been a significant shift in consumer behavior towards alternative seafood.
“The primary driving factor for consumers turning to alternative protein in countries like Singapore is sustainability – consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the impact of food choices on the environment,” said Sandhya Sriram, Group CEO & Co-founder of Shiok Meats, a Singapore-based Big Idea Venture portfolio startup producing cell-based shrimp, crab and lobster.
When looking at sustainability, here are the main issues that have emerged from commercial fishing practices:
- Overfishing: Many scientists believe that overfishing is the biggest threat to the future of our oceans. In simple terms, overfishing means catching so many fish from a body of water that those left behind can’t replenish naturally the population of fish lost. This has not only led to pushing a number of species toward extinction but has also resulted in underwater ecosystem shifts and ultimately collapse.
- Bycatching: In the fishing industry, a bycatch is the fish that is unintentionally caught while trying to catch other fish species. The current practice is to discard the ones that are not commercially valuable. However, many are injured or killed in the process. This has become a massive threat, especially with endangered species like sharks, dolphins or turtles.
- Carbon Footprint: A study done by Nature Climate Change shows that “fisheries consumed 40 billion liters of fuel in 2011 and generated a total of 179 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent GHGs (4% of global food production)”. Fishing for crustaceans has the most carbon intensive fleets.
Aquafarming, a modern way to breed and harvest fish to meet the high demand from the seafood market, is thought to be a more sustainable way to farm fish. But the practice comes with the usual intensive farming issues.
- It kills off natural habitats by overfarming the fish in a fenced-area. The fish waste coming from these intensive farms also cause huge blankets of green slime on the water surface which results in oxygen depletion and ultimately an immense loss of life.
- It isn’t sustainable. The majority of the fish produced by aquafarming are predators like salmon and shrimp, which are required to be fed with other wild fish. For instance, 3kg of wild fish is required to feed 1kg farmed fish.
- It involves the use of antibiotics, pesticides and antifluents that not only pollute the marine environment, but put our health at risk.
Another factor that consumers are taking into consideration while switching to alternative seafood is food safety and health. Good Food Institute’s recent market research done within Japan, Singapore, Thailand and South Korea shows that key drivers for alternative seafood adoption is the absence of contaminants.
Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), one of the most common toxic industrial chemicals, can be found in rivers, oceans and around coastal areas. It is a chemical whose sediments are almost impossible to break down. These sediments are found at the bottom of waterbeds and inside tissues of fish. Therefore, consuming contaminated fish has become one of the main sources of PCB ingestion in humans. Studies have found a link between PCB intake to be associated with higher incidence of cancer.
“With a population that is increasingly becoming more aware of what is consumed, the lack of contaminants and potential health benefits enriched by cultivating fish from cells would definitely be a great value proposition for consumers barring taste and cost parity,” said Aaron Chua, CEO & Co-founder of Fisheroo, another Singapore based startup specializing in cell-based surimi.
This shift in consumer behavior is being addressed by the large number of innovative companies entering the alternative seafood space. Here are some of the amazing startups working on ways to produce sustainable and clean seafood.
- Shiok Meats producing alt-shrimp, crab and lobster (A BIV Portfolio Company)
- Pearlita Foods which has successfully developed the first cultivated oyster (A BIV Portfolio Company)
- Fisheroo which is developing cultivated surimi (#BIVCohort4)
- Jellatech which uses cells from jellyfish and marine origins to cultivate gelatin and collagen (A BIV Portfolio Company)
- Aqua Cultured Foods is creating the first whole muscle seafood alternative created through fermentation (#BIVCohort3)
- Hooked Foods which produces their “Toonish” and “Salmoonish” products and plant-based fish stick (A BIV Portfolio Company)
- Optimized Foods which is producing cultivated caviar (#BIVCohort5)
- Loki Foods who are working on their white fish product
- New Wave Foods that produce plant-based shrimp
- Sono Biosciences which is developing the next generation fish cell culture media and fish cell lines for cultured fish
- Esencia Foods that is building fish and seafood alternatives based on mushroom mycelium
The Big Idea Ventures team is always on the lookout for innovative plant-based companies. If you are an early-stage startup looking for investment and support, reach out to us here. If you are a corporate or an investor interested in investing in the space, reach out to us here.