Navigating the Plant-Based Seafood Frontier: Insights from Maarten Geraets

Navigating the Plant-Based Seafood Frontier: Insights from Maarten Geraets

By PreScouter Editorial Team

The plant-based seafood industry, initially trailing behind other plant-based foods in terms of research and investment, is now undergoing significant transformation driven by rapid advancements and shifting consumer demands.

Maarten Geraets, former Thai Union Alternative Protein MD, a key figure in the alternative proteins industry, guides us through the current state and potential of plant-based seafood, emphasizing the importance of various factors such as consumer preferences, health concerns, and the need for collaboration in shaping the future of this burgeoning market.

The information is extracted from an interview with Geraets, which you can read in our report.

Research and investment of plant-based seafood

The plant-based seafood sector, a branch of alternative proteins, has historically lagged in research and investment compared to its counterparts like meat, eggs, and dairy.

Geraets explains that initial focus was primarily on red meat alternatives, primarily due to the scale and size of the meat market overall, its climate impact, and thus having bigger business opportunities. This focus resulted in plant-based meat options advancing significantly, placing them a decade ahead of seafood alternatives.

However, the tide is changing for the plant-based category, with seafood being the latest offering. There is growing recognition of its potential, spurred by the introduction of innovative products. This shift indicates a burgeoning interest and investment in the sector, signaling a pivotal moment for plant-based seafood as it begins to close the gap with its more established counterparts. 

The change is not just a reflection of market trends but also of a broader realization within the food industry: the opportunity for plant-based alternatives extends well beyond traditional categories, encompassing a diverse range of seafood products. 

This evolution in the plant-based seafood market is a testament to the dynamic nature of consumer preferences and the increasing importance of sustainable, alternative protein sources.

Biggest drivers for the plant-based seafood market

The primary forces propelling the plant-based seafood market forward are multifaceted.

Firstly, there is a growing awareness around health concerns such as allergies to traditional seafood like shrimp, as well as an increased awareness towards mercury and microplastics in ocean-derived seafood, helping to entice consumers towards safer, plant-based options.

Secondly, but more notably, there is a general appetite for more diversification and offerings, beyond chicken and beef. Seafood offers a new and much wider range of offerings, to entice consumers.

Having said this, just as in meat, the seafood category started mimicking the traditional seafood offerings. Gradually however we see an opportunity to embed more ‘sea based ingredients’, and morph towards new propositions all together. This approach aims not just to replace traditional seafood, but to expand the market with innovative, plant-based alternatives, fostering a more inclusive seafood market.

Major challenges in developing plant-based seafood:

Navigating the development of plant-based seafood involves overcoming several distinct challenges. Geraets sums up the main challenges in the following:

  1. Exciting Consumer Interest: The foremost challenge is creating plant-based seafood products that captivate consumers. Moving beyond simple imitation to offer new, engaging seafood experiences is essential.
  2. Nutritional and Taste Balance: It’s crucial to develop products that not only mimic the taste of seafood but also fulfill nutritional requirements, offering a satisfying protein solution.
  3. Cost Effectiveness: Current plant-based seafood options are more expensive than their traditional protein counterparts, making cost a significant barrier to widespread adoption.
  4. Diversity in Seafood Varieties: The seafood category includes over 200 species, each with distinct flavors, colors, and textures, and whole-cuts. This diversity adds complexity to creating accurate plant-based alternatives.
  5. Scaling Up Production: Increasing production to meet demand while maintaining quality and consistency is a major challenge, especially given the intricacies involved in replicating various seafood characteristics.

“Taste, texture and aroma remain a challenge with seafood. We are not dealing with chicken. We have 200 different species in seafood. The flavors are more subtle in most cases, the color is more varied and textures have more complexity and variety.”

Innovative Ingredients in Plant-Based Seafood: Microalgae and Seaweed

The incorporation of microalgae and seaweed into plant-based seafood products introduces a realm of possibilities and challenges. These ingredients offer unique benefits and hurdles that are reshaping the landscape of alternative seafood.

Potential of Microalgae and Seaweed

Utilizing sea plants like microalgae and seaweed in plant-based seafood offers compelling advantages. These ingredients not only provide unique nutritional benefits and authentic seafood flavors but also differentiate plant-based seafood from traditional meat-based products. Their inclusion allows for more engaging storytelling in marketing, highlighting the natural connection to the ocean environment.

Challenges in Incorporating Algae

While the potential of algae in plant-based seafood is significant, the path to its integration is not without obstacles. A vast array of undiscovered algae types exist, each requiring thorough exploration and regulatory approval. The process of sourcing these novel ingredients and establishing a reliable value chain presents considerable challenges, necessitating time and careful planning to ensure successful implementation in the market.

Current Trends and Future Outlook in Plant-Based Seafood

The plant-based seafood market is a dynamic field with evolving trends and promising growth opportunities. Understanding the current landscape and future potential of this market provides valuable insights into its trajectory.

Current Trends and Growth Opportunities

The plant-based seafood market is diverse, featuring 200 types of seafood, including various cuts of tuna and shrimp varieties. This diversity offers a wide range of product offerings. 

Although plant-based seafood is still catching up with the meat category, the pace of growth is expected to accelerate. Much of the groundwork for consumer acceptance has been established by the plant-based meat industry. 

For example, while it took a decade for plant-based burgers to gain mainstream acceptance, newer products like plant-based tuna are anticipated to find market acceptance more quickly. 

A significant growth area is identified in the frozen and chilled (refrigerated) sector, which presents a promising and rapidly expanding segment.

Geraets also emphasized the opportunities present in hybrid seafood products, for example, mixing real tuna with its plant-based alternative.

The Future of Plant-Based Seafood

Looking forward, the future of plant-based seafood is viewed with optimism. However, the rate of growth and acceptance might be slower than some investors initially expected. 

One of the main challenges is the slower pace of change in food habits compared to the adoption of new technologies. Changing dietary preferences involves more than just introducing new products; it requires navigating the emotional and habitual aspects of eating. 

This complexity suggests that while the future is promising, the journey towards widespread adoption of plant-based seafood will be gradual and requires a nuanced understanding of consumer behavior.

“Currently, we see much better traction in Europe than in the US. I believe that even markets in the Asia-Pacific region, which are currently lagging behind the US and Europe, will catch up soon.” said Geraets “Europe seems to have better quality products in the market at the moment. It is a consumer mindset change that needs to happen. The market is globally barely 1% of traditional meat and seafood, where meat is far ahead. It will take time but it is going to happen.”

Embracing Collaboration: Shaping the Future of Plant-Based Seafood

In conclusion, the plant-based seafood industry stands at a pivotal juncture where collaboration, rather than competition, is key to future success. This sector’s progress is marked by a unified approach, where different entities across the value chain come together to enhance product quality and innovation. 

The recognition that the challenges are too vast for any single player to tackle alone has fostered a spirit of cooperation. As the industry moves forward, it’s this collective effort that will drive the growth and evolution of plant-based seafood, ensuring a sustainable and diverse food future for all.

We have a comprehensive report about the thriving landscape of plant-based seafood alternatives and their potential for innovation that you can download here.

If you have any questions or would like to know if we can help your business with its innovation challenges, please contact us here or email us at

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