Alt-Seafood Splash #3: Shelf Sweep
Revealed! The alt-fish found on the Japanese market.
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Happy Tuesday Market Shakers. Today we tour Japan’s stores in search of alt-seafood products.
Alt-fish products are a rare sight in Japan. Every time we found one we were happy as clams. If you geek out over supermarket shelves as we do too, we think you’ll love today’s article.
We’ll start with a global overview of the alt-seafood retail landscape. Then we’ll focus in on trends in Asia for a little extra inspiration. At last, we’ll reveal the surprising varieties of alt-fish available at retail in Japan.
How do Japan’s store shelves stack up to the rest of the world?
The number of alt-seafood products available in Japan is small. Minnow-sized, compared to more developed alt-protein markets like the U.S. and Europe. Here you would usually find several products on physical store shelves. In Japan, the number is likely one at most.
The U.S. is the country with the most alt-seafood products at retail, with an estimated 40 (as of Janauary 2022). The next largest market, Europe, has a more limited number of products, mostly frozen faux-fish, like burgers and fish fingers. This is still small fry compared to the hundreds of alt-meat products available. It shows that globally, the market for alt-seafood is in its early stages.
A few supermarkets in Asia stock plant-based seafood. Thailand’s Gourmet Market sells Thai Union's OMG Meat plant-based seafoods for example. In Hong Kong, online supermarkets and food services sell Green Monday’s Omni-Seafood range.
The alt-seafood product mix
There are so many varieties of seafood so just what alt-versions are being sold? Almost all products currently available at retail around the world are plant-based. Our research identified three broad types of products:
Plant-based tunas are the most common alternative seafood item. Our research found more canned tuna alternatives than any other products. This holds true for Japan too.
The number of makers has exploded over the last couple of years to include giants like Nestlé. Besides Tuna, tinned alt-salmon and alt-crab are available in the US and Europe.
After canned, alt-frozen fish products are the most common on store shelves in the US, Europe and Asia. Alt-versions of fish cakes, fish fingers, and fish burgers dominate western markets. Sophie’s Kitchen and Good Catch Foods are two big names in the U.S. market. Vegan Zeastar and Nestle’s Vrimp are common sights on European store shelves.
In Asia, frozen products suit local tastes. For example, dumplings, spring rolls, and fish cakes. In Japan, we found a few frozen products such as Azumarche’s konjac sashimi.
Chilled alt-seafoods are the smallest of our three categories. Examples of products include Japan’s Deats konjac-based fish fry and Mimic Seafood’s veggie sashimi.
Trends In Asia
As we covered last week, alt-seafood hasn’t taken off in Japan, yet. More time is needed before alt-seafood trends emerge in Japanese stores. We will introduce examples of established products from neighbouring Asian countries to give a flavour of how Japan’s market might evolve.
Thai Union’s Frozen Plant-Based Seafood Lineup
Thai Union is the world’s largest producer of canned seafood. In 2021, they launched a lineup of plant-based seafood across Thai supermarkets under the OMG Meat brand.
Their products are adapted to Asian palates, featuring plant-based items like crab shumai dumplings or crab meat buns.
In Gourmet Market in Bangkok, Thai Union’s products are placed alongside regular frozen fish products. This is different to Japan as we’ll see below.
The packaging emphasises high protein content and nutritional benefits such as zero cholesterol. In Japan too, consumers are increasingly interested in healthy food items and the benefits of high protein diets. Specific messaging about health perks, like high protein or high fibre, could work in Japan. But consumers already view seafood as healthy so the exact health benefits of alternatives need to be labelled clearly.
OmniFoods - Omni Seafood
OmniFoods is a subsidiary of Green Monday. Their Omni Meat and Omni Seafood products are expanding across global markets. In fact, they launched their Omni-Tuna in Japan this month (June 2022). It’s one of few products currently sold in physical stores in Japan. Check out our commentary and exclusive store photo at the end of the article.
In Hong Kong Omni Seafood is sold online and via food services. The lineup includes alternatives to battered fish fillets, fish burgers and canned tuna. They also collaborated with Starbucks on a faux-crabcake dish in 2021.
With that general overview of the alt-seafood store-scape, it’s time we explore what’s in Japan’s stores.
Alt-fish in Japanese stores
There were more alt-seafood products on the market in Japan than we imagined. Some are surprisingly innovative.
We found most alt-seafood products online. Azumarche sells their konjac-based sashimi D2C, for example. NEXT MEATS also do the same for their plant-based tuna. Though their product is also available on several marketplaces like Amazon.
We found no consistent placement for alt-fish products in Japanese supermarkets. Deat's Fry, for example, is placed in the konjac section, not the dedicated plant-based space. We found canned alt-tuna on the alternative protein shelf in the organic supermarket Bio-Ral.
We asked GourmetPro’s Takashi Fukushima to share his thoughts about alt-fish’s place in Japanese stores.
As more products come to market, Japanese supermarkets and wholesalers will have dedicated shelf space for faux-fish. Similar to how some stores have plant-based food sections in Japan. Most likely fish-burgers, fish-fingers, frozen fried fish products will be popular alt products early on. They’re accessible to all consumers, especially moms who want something easy and healthy for thie kids.
Takashi Fukushima, Business Development Consultant for GourmetPro
Takashi has decades of experience connecting foreign clients with Japanese trading companies and importers. If you’re curious about bringing alt-fish to Japan, or any other F&B product, GourmetPro can support you. Find out how.
Azu Marche - Green Surf Alternative Salmon, Tuna and Squid
Seafood producer Azuma Foods Co. Ltd launched a plant-based seafood brand, Green Surf, in 2021. The product's main ingredient is konjac. It is flavoured with MSG only.
The company’s products are available from its online store. They market their products as a sustainable alternative to regular seafood. So far they have found success with consumers who can’t eat raw fish because of allergies or pregnancy.
DAIZ - Miracle Meat Tuna
Maker of soy-based alt-meats DAIZ produces an alt-tuna product. It's available for sale online and DAIZ hopes to collaborate with food services on menu items.
Deats - Deats Fry
Deats launched a range of konjac and okara-based alt-meat products in 2021. Their lineup, available in AEON supermarkets in Japan, includes an alt-fish fry product. The alt-fish fry imitates Japanese fried white fish. Its fish-like flavour comes from white dashi and kelp soup. It has a soft texture like white fish according to Deats.
Harmony Garden Daichi no Tayori - Plant-based Salmon Fish Fry
Harmony Garden makes and sells vegan and vegetarian products from Japan and abroad. They offer a plant-based salmon fish fry made from yuba (tofu-skin).
The product is available via their online store and on Amazon Japan.
Kanetetsu - Curry Flavour Fish-Fry Alternative
There are a few things that make this product interesting. For starters, it is one of the