Thai Union partners with plant-based Ish Food Company

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Diving brief:

  • Thai Union and its subsidiary Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods in partnership with plant-based seafood maker The Ish Food Company increase its manufacture and distribution. The companies said the partnership will invest in the sustainable seafood space and ensure the availability of affordable alternative protein options.
  • The seafood giant said the partnership was in line with its commitment to sustainability. Thai Union launched its SeaChange sustainability program in 2016. Ish, which makes its shrimp products from ingredients such as coconut, konjac flour and tapioca starch, is a Certified B Corp which claims to put sustainability at the heart of its ingredient selection.
  • The former seafood companies have partnered with manufacturers of plant-based and cell-based versions of fish and seafood. This is Thai Union’s first partnership with a plant-based seafood company, but he signed a memorandum of understanding with California cell-based seafood company BlueNalu in April 2021.

Overview of the dive:

Alternative seafood is seen as an area ripe for expansion. According to a Good Food Institute report last year, plant-based seafood accounted for just 0.1% of all seafood segment dollar retail sales in 2020. If plant-based seafood reaches 1.4 % of segment sales – which is the current plant-based meat cut of dollar sales in the retail meat market – that could be worth $221 million.

Last year, sales of plant-based seafood grew 14% to $14 millionbut they only accounted for 1% of the entire plant-based meat segment.

Thai Union has also heard the calls for alternative seafood. A May Survey of Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods and Wakefield Research cited in the release said 35% of grocery and restaurant executives received plant-based seafood requests this year.

Thai Union is working on animal-free alternatives through a business unit it launched last year. It makes tuna, frozen seafood and finished products for catering and other industrial customers, but its consumer-facing options are few. This launches the OMG Meat brand hit the Thai market last March, but has nothing like it to offer US consumers.

Ish is a new rising brand in the American seafood alternative industry. Founded in 2020 by serial entrepreneur and sustainability-minded investor Bernard David following a heart attack, the company strives to provide healthy options to disrupt the alternative seafood space. launched its Shrimpish — which is a pinkish curl that resembles the animal-based version — and Shrimpish Crumbles in the restaurant business this year. Ish has other types of seafood in development, including salmon, cod, crab, and lobster.

In 2020, Bumble Bee entered into a similar partnership with plant-based seafood brand Good Catch. At the time, Good Catch was well established in the market, having closed a $32 million funding round with backing from big-name investors months earlier. Chris Kerr, executive chairman and co-founder of parent company Gathered Foods, said in a 2020 interview that this partnership was responsible for all consumers who were able to find Good Catch products in their local supermarkets – and especially in the canned seafood aisle. Since the partnership, Good Catch has also branched out into new product lines, including plant-based frozen breaded salmon and fish burgers.

Thai Union’s partnership injects a lot of confidence into Ish Foods and opens up a much wider reach for its products. With such strong support, Ish’s journey from a few food establishments to a common brand in restaurants and grocery stores may not be a swim upstream.

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