Can you revolutionize the $120 billion seafood industry with plants? Good Catch Foods, a chef-driven, NYC-based food startup, believes that it can.
“Our goal was to create a product that has the same texture, flavor, and nutritional value as real tuna – without harming our oceans and sea life,” says vegan chef Chad Sarno, co-founder of Good Catch Foods. His extensive culinary career includes serving as Vice President of Plant-Based Wellness at Rouxbe Cooking School, and the Global Health and Wellness Coordinator, Media Spokesperson, and R&D Chef for Whole Foods Market.
Chad co-founded Good Catch Foods with his brother, Derek whose culinary resume is just as impressive: former Senior Global Chef & Culinary Educator at Whole Foods and current Executive Chef, Director of Plant-Based Food Innovation, and creator of the highly successful line of vegan ready meals, Wicked Kitchen, at Tesco, the UK’s leading supermarket.
“Innovation is driven by demand,” says Chad. “And when it comes to food, I think demand is also driven by taste, convenience, and most importantly in my opinion—the impact opportunity.”
The concept to create a vegan tuna came after identifying a gap in the plant-based seafood market. As it happens, the market for canned tuna is huge.
Tuna is the second biggest canned good product sold in the U.S., according to recent data from the Canned Food Alliance. On average, Americans eat about one billion pounds of canned and pouched tuna a year, a figure only exceeded by coffee and sugar in sales per foot of supermarket shelf space. The U.S. is the second largest consumer of canned tuna in the world. Nearly half of all American households serve canned tuna at least once; but many homes consume it weekly.
“We call it seafood without sacrifice. We broke new ground in the plant-based seafood world by creating the flaky texture of seafood, and fresh taste of the ocean that is packed with protein and omegas,” says Chad.
Along with the two chefs, Good Catch’s mission is also driven by three additional visionaries: co-CEO, Chris Kerr the Chief Investment Officer of vegan venture capital firm New Crop Capital; Marci Zaroff, author and co-founder of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition and the conscious branding agency BeyondBrands; and Eric Schnell, a natural products industry veteran who co-founded the organic soda brand Steaz and with his wife Marci, BeyondBrands.
A Versatile, ‘Unmistakable’ Tuna
“We start with our proprietary six-legume blend (chickpeas, soy, peas, lentils, fava and navy beans), which are packed with flavorful protein, and combined with our unique process create the unmistakable light, flaky texture of fine seafood,” says Chad. “We then add another star ingredient to lend its superb umami flavor––sea algae oil––rich in DHA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid.”
It took a lot of work, but the end result made it a challenge worth tackling. Good Catch’s current plant-based tuna product lineup consists of three varieties – Naked in Water, Mediterranean, and Oil & Herbs – that come in shelf-stable pouches. The Sarnos are especially proud about getting the texture of the legume-based tuna just right.
“After a ton of R&D, we found that when these legumes are blended in the right ratios, they render an amazing texture resembling the thin layers of protein, similar to cooked fish,” Chad adds. “The versatility of the product to be eaten in cold recipes such as a deli-style tuna salad, to warm applications such as a fishless curry, and fishless linguini makes our Good Catch products such an adaptable ingredient to get creative with.”
The company will also make crabless cakes, fish-free sliders, and fish-free burgers.
“Cooked fish, especially a tuna product, has a distinct thin layering of protein, almost dry bite to it,” Chad says. “We were laser-focused to get this right before even digging into the taste. Once we were able to achieve this, next was getting the ocean flavor without it smelling too fishy and offensive. One thing we pride ourselves on with this fishless tuna is that we’re using real ingredients and real food—not synthetic flavors.”
In addition to delivering the same nutritional benefit, Good Catch’s plant-based tuna has the potential to protect the health of the planet and spare countless fish, birds, and marine mammals’ lives.
Can Vegan Seafood Save the Oceans?
“From an environmental standpoint, tuna fisheries are some of the most harmful to our oceans and to the environment. The process and nets alone have serious consequences on our oceans and to far more species than what is being fished for: from purse nets, to up to gill nets which are many miles long,” Chad said.
The sustainability of the traditional seafood industry is a big factor. A flurry of recent news headlines reveals overfishing’s connection to climate change. Moreover, fishing practices have another consequence –, one that the Sarnos aim to take head-on with their vegan tuna: other sea creatures die as a result.
“These massive nets also catch everything else, such as sea turtles, dolphins, many sharks and seabirds, which die as a result,” says Chad. “Overexploitation of fishing resources is another huge issue. There has been a significant reduction in the populations of some species of fish.”
According to data from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the U.S. commercial catch for tuna was 486 metric tons – 61 metric tons over the set limit.
“It is insane, with 85% of global fish stocks are overfished or fully depleted and Scientists predict that global fisheries will totally collapse by 2048. Clearly, our oceans and sea life need some attention,” Chad added.
According to the UN’s 2018 State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, even the lives of the targeted species are “wasted”. One in three fish caught are either thrown back or rot before being eaten. And despite the overfishing problem, the FAO predicts that global fish consumption in 2030 will be 20 percent higher than in 2016.
According to the Sarnos, there’s another problem with the world’s most popular source of protein: “Many of the larger fish, such as tuna can also contain toxic contaminants, like methylmercury, which pose well-documented risks to public health.”
The WHO (World Health Organization) identifies mercury as a major public health concern. The substance enters the environment, mainly from human activity, from coal-fired power stations, residential heating systems, and waste incinerators from mining for mercury and other metals.
“Once in the environment, elemental mercury is naturally transformed into methylmercury [MeHg] that bioaccumulates in fish and shellfish,” the WHO states.
A recent study showed that MeHg is a neurotoxin and that exposure to it in utero can lead to deficits in fine motor skills, language, and memory.
1-to-1 Substitute for Fish
“Whether you’re eating our products for the taste, the nutritional benefits, allergy reasons, because you don’t like the smell of fish, or because you’re a die-hard activist like me, our products are really for everyone,” says Chad.
Introducing a new product to the market comes with some struggles. The Sarnos took to heart that in order to make the biggest impact, they had to create something consumers were already familiar with. By packaging the fishless fish in pouches, they had already taken care of one part – and the product itself is essentially a one-for-one substitute for the real thing.
“The great thing about our products is that you don’t have to be a chef to create a delicious meal. You can even eat it straight out of the pouch with some crackers,” he added. “Our products can be used in any classic tuna recipe as you would tuna, with warm and cold recipes.”
According to the chefs, the response to the vegan tuna has been strong across the board, on social media, at industry demos, and at private tasting events. The @goodcatchfoods Instagram gives a snippet of how versatile the product is, showcasing it in tuna melts, spicy maki, Thai fishless cakes, Niçoise salad, and fishless linguini.
“Good Catch products evoke the experience of real seafood through our exceptional taste and texture. We use algae oil to capture the authentic ocean flavor. We also think we nailed the flaky tuna texture,” Chad explained.
Not only has Good Catch Foods created a vegan tuna that tastes realistic, but also a product that has the same nutritional benefits – something that previous products have been unable to match.
“Our products are high in protein and packed with healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which is what people look for in fish. Our tuna delivers all of what people like,” Chad explains.
A single pouch of Good Catch Foods’ “Naked in Water” variety contains 14 grams of plant-based protein, just three grams shy of matching the protein content of regular chunk light tuna in water.
“I also encourage people to take a real look at the impact piece. Part of my mission and what drives me is how much impact a product can make on the market. We’ve created something that tastes great, provides the nutritional benefits of real fish and we can only hope will have a massive positive impact,” he adds.
Good Catch’s three varieties of shelf-stable plant-based tuna are launching at the online marketplace Thrive Market and at Whole Foods Market nationwide.
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