Alternative seafoods: The omega-3 opportunity

By Nikki Hancocks

- Last updated on GMT

© Aamulya | GettyImages
© Aamulya | GettyImages

Related tags omega-3

There’s a lot of opportunity for sustainable omega-3 suppliers in the seafood alternatives arena as the world searches for ways to feed a population of 10 billion by the year 2050.

This was the key message delivered by The Good Food Institute’s (GFI) lead scientist for cultivated meat and seafood Clair Bomkamp, presenting at the GOED Exchange in Athens, Greece on Tuesday (Jan 23).

"There are some converging trends in seafood that make us think we need to look more closely at how we’re producing this food," she asserted. "Fewer than 7% of fisheries are currently being fished at levels below the sustainable limits.

"This doesn’t mean 93% are over fished, but the 7% is where there’s room for growth, and we need growth. A World Bank report estimated a 27% increase in fish consumption between 2010 and 2030, and it seems we are pretty much on track for that so far, yet how we’re going to meet that demand is not clear."

The non-profit organization GFI has been developing a roadmap for a sustainable, secure and just protein supply by looking into alternative proteins which they believe will be part of the solution.

"But this is not just about altruistic concerns about food security or sustainability," Bomkamp said. "It’s something companies are recognising as a big opportunity for future growth."

She noted that the plant-based seafood market has seen steady year-on-year growth since 2019. However, while plant-based meat makes up 3% of the total packaged meat market, seafood alternatives are under 1% of that market.

"If seafood alternatives were to make up the same percentage of their market that would be a potential $196 million industry," she told the room.

Meeting and exceeding omega-3 profiles

It’s important to develop foods that are of equal nutritional value to what they are replacing, and consumers know that omega-3s are an important aspect of seafood’s nutritional value, Bomkamp said.

This was well demonstrated in GFI’s consumer research on alternative seafoods in 2022 in which 34% to 36% of participants said omega-3 levels would influence their decision of whether to purchase a seafood alternative.

Discussing options for sustainable fortification of these foods, she said scaling up micro-algae farming is "probably the most obvious", but plant molecular farming, precision fermentation and cell-free systems are other potential sources.

What the industry wants

GFI conducted a survey of alternative meat and seafood companies (Sept. to Dec. 2023, nearly 75% seafood companies) to determine how big of a priority omega-3 content is, what kind of ingredients companies are interested in and where they see themselves in five years.

Asked about the content of their current products, the data revealed EPA and DHA is not a current consideration for the majority, but some did clarify that it was something they were thinking about for future products, and many said they had product prototypes in which they were aiming for equivalent content. 

When asked about key challenges in sourcing omega-3s, the most cited challenge was price, followed by trouble finding suppliers, shelf life and off flavours.

Regarding their five-year outlook, the majority said they were expecting their products to have equivalent levels of omega-3 (to seafood source) within that timeframe.

Nearly all said that they are currently algae to fortify their products, but many were interested in diversifying, with particular interest in precision fermentation and recombinant encapsulation.

"So if you’re an omega-3 supplier who would like to work with the alternative protein industry, I think the first thing is to look at a the list of challenges companies are citing and see if you can address some of those, such as by taking advantage of economies of scale, making yourself easy to find, improving shelf-life, reducing off flavours and reducing lead times," Bomkamp saidI would also recommend establishing relationships early so as companies scale up you can grow with them."

She added that alternative omega-3 suppliers can add their listing to the GFI company database​ online.

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