"Salmon is the most popular fish, and it’s a good place to start because people, especially in the US market, have a desire for it," Plantish co-founder and CEO Ofek Ron, PhD, told FoodNavigator-USA.
"It’s also a fish with a very good chance for extinction," he said.
US per capita seafood consumption hit 19.2 lbs per person in 2019, a slight increase from 19.0 lbs in 2018, according to a report released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) in May 2021.
Atlantic salmon was the leading species for marine aquaculture, with an estimated 36.4 million pounds produced, valued at $66.5m, in 2019, noted NOAA in its report.
While not quite on the brink of extinction, many salmon species are subject to overfishing (when a particular fish stock exceeds that allowable exploitation rate of a specific geographical area). In 2018, NOAA determined that five Pacific salmon stocks are now considered "overfished" and another "subject to overfishing."
“We exist to save the oceans and eliminate the need to consume marine animals by providing a more sustainable, more nutritious, and more delicious fish option," noted Ron.
'The Impossible Foods of seafood': Developing whole-cut, plant-based salmon
Developing a plant-based version of salmon that looks, smells, tastes, and cooks just like salmon but made with plant-based ingredients is the most promising solution to not only the environmental issue of overfishing, but fills a clear gap in the market, said Ron.
"Most of the companies are tackling seafood alternatives in the minced category (i.e. burgers and patties)," he said, noting the company also wanted to meet consumers where they were as the top mode of consumption for salmon is in its whole-cut, fillet form.
"We are trying to create the Impossible Foods of seafood and to do that, it can’t be a burger company, it has to be [whole-cut] salmon," said Ron.
According to marker research firm IMARC Group, approximately 80% of fish is consumed whole-cut, in the form of whole fish or fillets. However, the alternative seafood sector primarily consists of minced fish options, due to technical complexities of whole cut production.
Using a mix of legume proteins, plant-based fats such as algae oil, and other binders, Ron and Plantish's team of serial entrepreneurs, bioengineering and chemistry PhDs, including Eyal Briller, former director of product at Impossible Foods, spent half a year developing a whole cut, plant-based product, and created the first-to-market whole-cut plant-based salmon.
The team of experts was able to create the right blend of plant proteins to achieve the fibrous strands meant to replicate the complex texture of animal muscle and capture the experience of eating salmon.
Plantish’s current prototype can be cooked all the ways that conventional salmon is prepared.
Ron added that nutritionally, its plant-based salmon fillets are on par with conventional salmon with regard to protein, healthy fat content (Omega-3s and Omega-6s), and B vitamins, but without mercury, antibiotics, hormones, microplastics, and toxins found in some fish from the ocean.
Path to commercialization
Before entering retail, Ron shared that the company will target foodservice, including a plan to serve the plant-based salmon fillets on the menu at select restaurants by the end of the year.
Plantish and its operations are currently contained to its lab in Israel where the company developed the ingredients and equipment to produce the salmon alternative.
The 6-month-old company is developing a versatile, patent-pending additive manufacturing technology that will produce plant-based fish alternatives at low cost and high scale.
"When you're in control of the machine and ingredients together, the sky is the limit to produce whatever you want," said Ron, who added that the company is currently in the process of scaling to a commercial level.