Leader in the small, but growing, plant-based seafood space, Good Catch Foods is making the category more accessible through its aggressive expansion into food service.
Consumers are actively seeking plant-based alternatives to their favorite poultry, beef, dairy, and seafood products. Plant-based seafood is a small but growing member of the plant-based product segment. One company leading the charge for plant-based seafood is Good Catch Foods, a subsidiary of Gathered Foods. Good Catch offers a suite of finished products that includes plant-based tuna, fish sticks, fish fillets, crab cakes, fish burgers, and fish cakes, all made with the company’s proprietary blend of six legumes—peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans, and navy beans—that help create the ideal taste, texture, and protein content consumers are looking for.
According to data published by the Plant Based Foods Association, in 2020 plant-based meats—the second largest plant-based category—grew 45%, up $962 million, compared to the previous year, with plant-based meat accounting for 2.7% of retail packaged meat sales. This growth was twice as fast as that of conventional meat. Refrigerated plant-based meat grew 75% in 2020, and frozen plant-based meat grew 30%.
Within the plant-based meat market, plant-based seafood accounted for $12 million in sales in 2020, growing 23% over the previous year.
There is a lot of hype around certain plant-based meats, focused on burgers and milk alternatives, so plant-based seafood has some work to do when it comes to consumer awareness. What’s unique about Gathered Foods’ approach to evangelizing plant-based seafood is that it is actively expanding into food service to reach as many consumers as possible, making its products more accessible and relatable to everyday people.
“We know that curating the taste experience is absolutely paramount to success, especially when you have something that’s new,” explains Christine Mei, CEO of Gathered Foods. “Our consumers are typically millennial flexitarians; they’re food explorers, they’re adventurous, they’re experiential foodies that want to learn and discover new things. Also, they’re awfully health conscious, they’re transparency seekers, they’re altruistic, but ultimately, if you present the consumer with something that’s new, the best way to be able to compel them to enjoy the experience is to curate this experience.”
Interest in plant-based alternatives is at an all-time high, but not everyone may be willing to take the risk of purchasing an entire box of plant-based crab cakes if they don’t understand the potential for taste and texture. “We’ve already had some really good lessons and experiences with food service partners over the last year and a half, reinforcing that you have to meet the consumers where they are, where they are trying to discover new foods, and where they are trying to have new experiences,” says Mei. Consumers have to be inspired to take the leap.
Widespread adoption of novel, plant-based alternatives to well-loved food is not achieved by virtue alone. Taste is paramount. It’s therefore no surprise that Good Catch was co-founded by Chef Chad Sarno, a pioneer of plant-based cooking who has launched restaurants in Istanbul, Munich, London, and Belgrade, and served as vice president of plant-based education at Rouxbe Cooking School as well as global wellness coordinator, media spokesperson, and R&D chef for Whole Foods Market. Sarno has also written and contributed to numerous cookbooks dedicated to plant-based and health-conscious cooking.
It is this chef-driven focus on great taste and texture, and a quality culinary experience, that makes Gathered Foods so well suited to partnering with food service providers. “The opportunity for us when we approach food service partners is, because we have clear culinary expertise, we can look at their menus, and we curate a menu suggestion that is customized to what they serve,” explains Mei. “So, we work with those food service partners and their chefs or their culinary teams to come up with something that is customized for them. And that’s the fun of it, to unleash culinary creativity.”
Currently, Good Catch’s food service partners include Bareburger (New York City), Champs Diner (Brooklyn, NY), Daily Veg (Newark, DE), Honeybee Burger (Santa Monica, CA), Malibu’s Burgers (Oakland, CA), Pause…itively Vegan (Deerfield Beach, FL), and Veggie Grill (CA, MA, NY, OR, WA). Additionally, Whole Foods Market now stocks a plant-based tuna salad made by Good Catch in the prepared foods section of its store in ten states. Recently, in July of 2021, Good Catch entered into a partnership with Long John Silver’s, the nation’s largest quick-serve seafood food chain, which offered Good Catch’s Plant-Based Bread Fish-Free Fillet and the Plant-Based Breaded Crab-Free Cake in five locations in California and Georgia, for a limited time. That, too, was successful, and Mei reports that the two companies are working together on next steps.
“We do reach a range of food service partners, from fast food to casual dining to fine dining,” says Mei. “Our goal is not to just be a limited-time offer, and we’ve actually had some really good experiences of migrating from limited-time offers to a permanent placement on the menu.”
Once consumers are inspired by their experience of eating Good Catch plant-based seafood in a restaurant, the brand also provides further support for those buying products at retail by offering recipes on its website as well as its YouTube channel, with additional instruction for some recipes. This is important because plant-based options are often presented in formats such as frozen foods that most people may associate with convenient, no-effort meals. Good Catch wants consumers to understand that, with some creativity and effort, they can elevate plant-based seafood to be a rewarding culinary experience.
“We offer that creativity so you don’t have to just think of it on your own, if you want some guidance,” says Mei. “Again, this is about curating that taste experience. We can curate it at the food service establishment, and if you want to recreate it yourself or want to experiment, but need a little bit of inspiration, we have ways to be able to help you get on your way.”
There are many strategies consumers take to reduce their negative environmental impact on the planet. One of them is either completely removing animal-based foods from their diet or restricting the amount of meat or dairy they eat. Others remove red meat and poultry but continue to eat fish. For those who eat fish, the story of commercial fishing’s impact on marine life may be overshadowed by the environmental impacts and welfare concerns of animal agriculture. However, both animal agriculture and commercial fishing have a significant impact on our planet.
“One of the shocking facts, at least for me, is realizing that 40% of the fish that are caught worldwide is bycatch. Eight hundred dolphins, whales, and porpoises are killed from fishing every day. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles are caught as bycatch every year,” says Mei. “And when I think about the over-exploitation of fishing resources, that’s another huge issue. There is going to be a significant reduction in the population of some species of fish in the next several years. Oceans and sea life really need some attention. And we have got to align all kinds of interested parties to really have a commitment to a new approach to seafood. That’s really needed to allow fish to remain in the ocean.”
Even major brands associated with fish see the writing on the wall. For example, in March of 2020, Gathered Foods and Bumble Bee Foods (San Diego, CA), one of North America’s largest seafood companies, entered into a joint distribution venture.
“What binds us together is the genuine ambition to be purposefully sustainable. We each do it in our own different and respective ways, but the end goal, quite frankly, is still the same: to nurture healthy oceans,” explains Mei. “We have to raise awareness, we have to reduce harm, and we have to preserve our environmental resources.”
The partnership was also strategic for Gathered Foods because as a mission-based startup, it had limited access and points of distribution. “We’re not huge, and so by forming a partnership with a company like Bumble Bee, we can reach far more consumers who want seafood alternative products,” says Mei. “It’s been pretty exciting to pair up with Bumble Bee because they are taking a bold step for the industry, but together we’re also providing choice for consumers—and, ultimately, it is about choice.”
Gathered Foods and Good Catch are poised for immense growth as the desire for plant-based alternatives climbs. By driving distribution through both retail and food service channels, Gathered Foods is making huge progress in enlightening a diverse set of consumers about the culinary possibilities of plant-based foods, specifically the emerging category of plant-based seafood, and contributing to their growing acceptance.
“Our mission at Gathered Foods is really about positive disruption,” says Mei. “We’re specifically focused on propelling change with craveable plant-based food solutions, and it’s primarily because we’re united by the love of really good food, plant-based eating, and animal welfare. That’s the combination that enables us to really stay focused and committed to raising consciousness, reducing harm, and preserving environmental resources, all while delivering a great culinary experience.”
As a leader in the plant-based seafood space, Gathered Foods anticipates continued innovation. “There are two to three hundred species that live in the ocean, and we are looking to leverage our technical and culinary innovations to deliver plant-based solutions to support ocean health,” states Mei. “That is the front and center priority for us. In order to do that, we really want to make Good Catch more accessible, more available. We want that full range of consumers, from vegans to flexitarians, to experience Good Catch.”
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