This company makes fish-free tuna: ‘Taste, adjust and taste again’

Seasogood’s business premises in Den Bosch only accommodate companies that work in the agri & food sector. So no standard offices, but various laboratories and test kitchens.

Product developer Shar Pijpers and intern Thomas are at work in a large test kitchen. The fish-free tuna was previously developed here. Now they are working on fish-free salmon and fish-free kibble.

Red cabbage and carrot

On the table are 40 tiny cups, filled with purple, yellow and red dye, which are mixed.

Add some red cabbage or carrot extract. Together they decide the best color for the salmon substitute, which will be launched on the market next year.

“The basis is protein, but which one is best? It can be done with soybeans, but also with other protein sources such as field beans, peas or rice.”

There are four types of fish-free salmon on a cutting board, all in different shapes and colors. In this experimental phase, one piece has the clear fins of the fish and the other looks a little rougher.

Bean proteins

It is important that we relieve our sea and eat less fish, says Michael Luesink (34), co-founder of Seasogood. He is a vegan and his partner Dennis Favier (38) is a vegetarian. Both studied Food Innovation at the HAS University of Applied Sciences in Den Bosch.

Luesink first focused on meat substitutes. “During internship and later in my first company (Boon). Those products are now in the supermarket.”

Overfishing

During a holiday in the Philippines in 2019, Luesink saw how the oceans are fished out. Looking for a solution, he contacted Favier, who made meat and dairy substitutes. There were no fish substitutes yet.

“It’s not just about coming up with something that can replace meat, fish or dairy products. It must also be able to be produced on a large scale and meet the requirements for food safety,” explains Favier.

Fishy taste

“We think you can replicate almost any kind of fish. But we want to offer a protein-rich alternative with the same omega 3 fatty acids,” says Favier.

The fish-free tuna consists of 89 percent protein concentrate from vegetable soybeans. Together with extracts from seaweed, sea buckthorn and algae oil, the fish-free tuna gets the fishy taste.

“We experimented for 1.5 years before we were satisfied,” says Favier

Albert Heijn

Start-up companies often have problems getting their products into stores. But with Seasogood it was easy.

They deliberately turned to Albert Heijn. “There is no retail chain in the Netherlands that sells relatively so many plant-based products,” says Luesink.

“Particularly older people buy canned tuna. With fish-free tuna, you appeal to a younger target group, vegetarians and flexitarians.”

Delivers thousands of cans in a matter of weeks

“Albert Heijn immediately wanted it in all (then) 890 stores, they had so much faith in it. Fortunately, by choosing a production partner, we had already ensured that it could scale up quickly. Within a few weeks, we delivered thousands of cans in three flavours,’ says Favier.

220,000 cans have now been sold. The fish-free tuna is also included in the Hello Fresh meal boxes. And from December, the catering company Appèl will replace all canned tuna with the vegan version. On pizzas, in salads, in pasta. “In a test, no one noticed the difference.”

Loss

Seasogood’s abridged annual report, which runs from March to December 2021, does not have an income statement. The balance sheet shows that the other reserves fell by more than 181,000 euros in 2021. The company now has equity of 2.5 tons, about 55 percent of the balance sheet total. That means it’s basically healthy unless there’s another year of losses this big.

“We make a loss, but that’s normal with a scale-up. The money goes primarily to development costs. We will soon be profitable,” says Favier.

Legislation and name

The fish-free tuna is simply sold under the name ‘tuna’. That while dairy products that resemble milk may not use that name. For example, almond milk and soy milk are prohibited. You can call it a vegetable schnitzel again.

It is not yet clear how it will go with fish. Favier: “We expect that Europe will take a closer look at this. For the time being, we assume that we can continue to use names such as tuna, salmon and kibbeling.”

Development costs

“If someone wants to copy us, they are welcome. It is important to us that we eat less fish. We cannot achieve this alone,” says Luesink. “I think we are two years ahead of other companies and what we do is not that easy,” adds Favier.

“In the Netherlands, fish is sold for 800 million euros a year. If 5 percent becomes plant-based within 5 years, it will be 40 million euros. Part of it is for us. But if everyone starts eating fish-free, millions more can be distributed .”

Spain

The duo has big plans. Influencers are committed and they want to conquer the European market, starting with Spain.

“We are now talking to a local distributor. Spain is interesting. Fish consumption there is the highest in Europe and there is a movement towards plant-based food. We think we can have the biggest impact on that market.”

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