On Feb. 7, the Madison, Wis.-based International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA) hosted a webinar titled “Consumer Attitudes, Behaviors and Aspirations in the Emerging Food Tech Space” led by Laurie Demeritt, owner and CEO of The Hartman Group, Bellevue, Wash.

In a Q&A following Demeritt’s presentation, she said that plant-based protein is a great case study for what works when it comes to food technology.

When plant-based products came to market, there was a belief that they were all very healthy, but consumers are now doing more due diligence with label reading and ingredient reading, Demeritt said.

She said that there is an Achilles heel right now around plant-based protein as consumers are becoming aware of how many of these products are overly processed, and consumers are now questioning whether plant-based really is more helpful/healthful and if it does provide value.

However, this does not mean that the plant-based seafood trend has been completely lost at sea.

Knowing that consumers are educating themselves on the topic, suppliers and retailers have an opportunity to reassess the value of plant-based protein — such as ethics-related benefits — and communicate it to consumers effectively.

This can also spark innovation and push the food industry to try new ways to create healthier plant-based products.

Plant-based shrimp

One company that is doing just that is The ISH Company, based in Rockland, Del.

The certified B-Corp, plant-based food company was founded in 2020 and launched its first product, Shrimpish, in 2022. It is currently being sold to select foodservice and retail customers in North America.

ISH also has more than 25 other plant-based products in development including Salmonish, Codish, Crabish and Lobsterish, which taste, feel and cook just like the seafood alternative, according to the company.

As of Jan. 24, ISH raised more than $5 million in its seed round for growth and development, bringing its total funds raised to almost $10 million. The funding round was led by ACCELR8 with participation form Stray Dog Capital.

“The funds will primarily be used to propel The ISH Company and plant-based seafood into the flourishing plant-based foods market, help the company continue to create more innovative products, and lay the groundwork for future partnerships,” the company said. “ISH uses its ‘whole system approach’ to fill the market gap by developing sustainable, healthy, and delicious plant-based versions of consumers’ favorite seafoods.”

According to ISH, shrimp is the most popular seafood item in the U.S., but it also causes four times more greenhouse gas emissions than beef.

While communicating the ethics-related benefits of Shrimpish to consumers, ISH is focused on health-related benefits as well. Shrimpish advertises its use of healthy, natural ingredients like coconut and algae to create the seafood texture and taste.

“The plant-based market has seen incredible growth over the past couple of years, but there is a massive lack of seafood substitutes,” said Bernard David, CEO and founder of The ISH Company.

“The opportunity to support a company that’s making significant strides in providing a more environmentally friendly way to eat seafood was a huge draw for our team,” said Justin Kern, partner at ACCELR8. “We believe the ISH team is uniquely positioned to make a splash in the plant-based seafood market, without sacrificing health and environmental concerns.”

“ISH is helping people gain access to healthy, sustainable, and delicious plant-based seafood, a market in which we see tremendous opportunity,” said Lisa Feria, CEO at Stray Dog Capital. “The plant-based seafood category has the potential to make up over $500 million in sales and we’re excited to include ISH in our portfolio as this figure continues to grow.”

Whole-cut seafood alternatives

Another startup that’s working to create healthier plant-based protein is Toronto-based New School Foods.

The company was founded in 2020, and last month, it raised $12 million in seed funding and publicly announced its proprietary, scalable technologies for producing whole-cut plant-based seafood.

Chris Bryson, the CEO and founder of New School Foods, spent the last three years investing in academic R&D projects with food science universities around the world to develop the company’s platform.

According to New School Foods, its unique additions to the plant-based protein industry are the following:

  • Muscle fibers, made from plants: Replicates the diameter, length, strength and structure of fish muscle fibers to deliver the same texture & mouthfeel.
  • Whole-cut Scaffolding: Filets that combines directionally aligned muscle fibers with plant-based connective tissue, fats, colors, and flavors.
  • Raw-to-Cooked: Unlike nearly all other products in the market that are pre-cooked by production, New School Foods’ cold-based processing technology creates a filet that starts raw and transforms like fish upon cooking.
  • Scalable by design: Unlike many other new food processing technologies, New School Foods’ process uses off-the-shelf equipment from adjacent industries, providing a superior ability to scale more globally.

“The next frontier of meat alternatives is whole cuts, and from day one we understood that New School Foods needed to solve two heavily connected issues: the quality of the meat alternatives in-market, and the limited toolkit our industry uses to produce them,” Bryson said. “What’s generally available for consumers now are rubbery, ground, pre-cooked products that will not convince the average customer to change their lifelong habits.”

“We invested in New School Foods because they recognized that the existing production technologies in the plant-based meat industry are insufficient for creating a whole-cut product that consumers genuinely want to eat,” said Nick Cooney, general partner at Lever Ventures. “Their technology is unlike anything else we’ve seen in the industry in terms of truly mimicking the texture, mouthfeel, and experience of cooking and eating whole cuts of meat.”