Thai Union partners with plant-based Ish Food Company

Dive Brief:

  • Thai Union and its subsidiary Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods partnered with plant-based seafood maker The Ish Food Company to increase its manufacturing and distribution. The companies said this partnership will invest in the sustainable seafood space and ensure affordable alternative protein options are available.
  • The seafood giant said the partnership was in keeping with its commitment to sustainability. Thai Union began its SeaChange sustainability program in 2016. Ish, which makes its Shrimpish products from ingredients including coconut, konjac flour and tapioca starch, is a Certified B Corp that claims to put sustainability at the core of its ingredient selection. 
  • Legacy seafood companies have been entering into partnerships with makers of plant-based and cell cultivated versions of fish and seafood. This is Thai Union’s first partnership with a plant-based seafood company, but it signed a memorandum of understanding with California cell-based seafood company BlueNalu in April 2021.

Dive Insight:

Alternative seafood is seen as an area ripe for expansion. According to a report from the Good Food Institute last year, plant-based seafood made up just 0.1% of all of the retail dollar sales of the seafood segment in 2020. If plant-based seafood grows to make up 1.4% of the segment’s sales — which is plant-based meat’s current cut of retail meat market dollar sales — it could be worth $221 million.

Last year, plant-based seafood sales grew 14% to be worth $14 million, but they accounted for just 1% of the entire plant-based meat segment.

Thai Union has been hearing the calls for alternative seafood as well. A May survey from Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods and Wakefield Research cited in the release said 35% of grocery and foodservice execs had received requests for plant-based seafood products this year. 

Thai Union is working on animal-free alternatives through a business unit that it launched last year. It makes tuna, frozen seafood and finished products for foodservice and other manufacturing clients, but its consumer-facing options are few. It launched the OMG Meat brand in the Thai market last March, but has nothing similar to offer U.S. consumers.

Ish is a new up-and-coming brand in the U.S. alternative seafood space. Founded in 2020 by serial entrepreneur and sustainability-minded investor Bernard David following a heart attack, the company works to make healthy options to disrupt the alternative seafood space. It launched its Shrimpish — which is a pinkish curl that looks like the animal-based version — and Shrimpish Crumbles in foodservice this year. Ish has other types of seafood products in development, including Salmonish, Codish, Crabish and Lobsterish.

In 2020, Bumble Bee entered 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 chair 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 moved into new product lines, including frozen breaded plant-based fish and salmon burgers.

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