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

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

Product developer Shar Pijpers and trainee 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 kibbeling.

Red cabbage and carrot

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

Add some extract of red cabbage, or carrot. Together they determine the best color for the salmon substitute, which is to 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 a different shape and colour. In this experimental phase, one piece has the clear fins of the fish and the other looks a bit rougher.

Bean proteins

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

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

Overfishing

During a holiday in the Philippines in 2019, Luesink saw how the seas are being fished out. He looked for a solution and 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. It also has to be able to be produced on a large scale and meet food safety requirements,” explains Favier.

Fishy taste

“We think you can replicate almost any kind of fish. But we do 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 berries 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-ups often have problems getting their products into the shops. But with Seasogood it was easy.

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

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

Delivering thousands of cans in a few weeks

“Albert Heijn immediately wanted it in all (then) 890 stores, they had that much faith in it. Fortunately, when selecting a production partner, we had already made sure that it could scale up quickly. Within a few weeks we delivered thousands of cans in three flavors,” 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 caterer Appèl will replace all canned tuna with the vegan variant. On pizzas, in salads, in pasta. “In a test, nobody noticed the difference.”

Loss

Seasogood’s abridged annual report, which runs from March through December 2021, does not have a profit and loss statement. The balance sheet does show that the other reserves fell by more than 181,000 euros in 2021. The company now has equity capital of 2.5 tons, about 55 percent of the balance sheet total. That means it’s basically healthy unless there’s another year of such high losses.

“We make a loss, but that is normal with a scale-up. The money mainly goes 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 are not allowed to use that name. For example, almond milk and soy milk are prohibited. A vegetable schnitzel can be called that again.

It is not yet clear how things will go with fish. Favier: “We do expect that Europe will look into 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 that alone,” says Luesink. “I think we are two years ahead of other companies and what we are doing is not that easy,” adds Favier.

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

Spain

The duo has big plans. Influencers are engaged 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 make the most impact in that market.”

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