Now that plant-based alternatives for conventional meat products have entered the mainstream, there’s a new wave to catch: the fast-growing market for plant-based seafood.

According to ADM OutsideVoiceSM research, US flexitarian consumers chose alternative fish as a top market innovation growth area. Plant-based seafood comprises just 1% of the plant-based meat market, but research indicates this number will rise in the months ahead.

Year-over-year domestic growth for fish alternatives reached 6.2% for a total of $7 million in annual retail revenue in 2019, with an additional $3 million coming from plant-based shellfish. Global markets with a high seafood consumption rate, such as the Philippines, where protein intake from seafood is 45%, and Malaysia, where intake is 35%, hold even more growth potential.


Consumer behavioral shifts

The opportunity for growth in the plant-based seafood category is further fueled by the way consumers shop as a result of COVID-19. Supply chain concerns, as well as the movement toward health and wellness, have already encouraged plant-based protein purchases. In fact, according to ADM OutsideVoiceSM research, 18% of US alternative protein buyers purchased their first plant-based meat alternative during COVID-19 (March and April, 2020), and 92% of those buyers say they are likely to continue purchasing. Growing acceptance in the meat alternative category signifies that consumers are open to innovation in other plant-based categories, including seafood.


Balance: healthier eating, healthy environment

Forty-six percent of US consumers agree that plant-based proteins are better for you than animal-based options. While many consumers already recognize seafood to be suitable for a balanced diet, only one in 10 consider it to be environmentally friendly, making a plant-based option preferable. Those who are conscious about the origins of their food have concerns about the increase in ocean pollution as well as the prevalence of overfishing.


Plant-based seafood has the potential to deliver similar taste, texture, and nutritional benefits to flexitarians desiring sustainable products they can feel better about.


Critical importance of taste and texture

Health, environmental, and supply chain concerns influence interest in the category, and it is also paramount that the taste and texture of plant-based seafood products are positive to grow the market’s potential.

Even existing plant-based proteins have some work to do when it comes to meeting consumer expectations. ADM OutsideVoiceSM research finds that more than 50% of flexitarian consumers agree that meat alternatives need taste improvements, and more than 20% say that texture needs to be improved. Seafood alternatives will no doubt face similar scrutiny given the prevalence of delicate, nuanced flavors and textures associated with fish and shellfish.

When it comes to flavor, replicating the fresh notes and subtle flavors inherent in seafood requires extraordinary technical expertise. ADM works with customers to identify the best ingredients, formulation techniques and processing conditions to achieve plant-based seafood alternatives that wow consumers. Whether it’s a simple breaded fishless fillet application or something more complex, like a vegan clam chowder or fish-free crab cakes, each product must be carefully developed and tested to effectively achieve authenticity while eliminating off-putting flavors.

Texture solutions are equally essential in replicating the uniqueness of seafood, such as the flakiness of fish and the tender bite in shrimp. Emulsifiers, stabilizers, and starches can all play a role, but an important first step is to choose the right protein base. This not only creates the proper texture, but also the right flavor and color. ADM has achieved success with various textured soy proteins, which deliver ideal protein quality along with optimal functionality.


The secret to success

The plant-based seafood alternative market is primed for growth. But in order for it to achieve its potential, great care must be taken to ensure consumers will bite. With a full pantry of solutions for successful product development in the seafood alternative category, ADM partners with food manufacturers globally to achieve consumer-preferred products. Protein, taste, texture, nutrition, functionality and color are all factors when creating solutions poised for success.