Seafood, see veg

First, it was fake meat. Now it’s seafood’s turn.

Plant-based seafood companies have cracked mainstream supermarkets with plant-based prawns, salmon, scallops and crab cakes. It’s seafood, but not as we know it, and it’s edging out shelf space usually reserved for meat.

Cale Drouin is the founder of PlantAsia which is pioneering the vegetable based seafood space.
Cale Drouin is the founder of PlantAsia which is pioneering the vegetable based seafood space.

Aimed at vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians – those who eat meat in moderation – the new-age seafood is making quite the splash.

Cale Drouin, founder of PlantAsia, initially projected five packets of the company’s $8 plant-based prawns would sell per week across 500 Woolworths stores. But it hit 12 packets sales each week across 800 stores within weeks.


Demand has pushed PlantAsia’s revenue to $100,000 in the six months since it launched. This accounts for almost a third of the Sydney-based company’s total $350,000 revenue, which is also generated from sales of its two other plant-based products: roast pork and roast duck.

Drouin, who once owned a vegan restaurant and grocery store in Brisbane, said plant-based products are increasingly popular with consumers for health and environmental reasons.

I never doubted these products would do well.

Cale Drouin

“I saw it evolving over time, there was more and more interest in this space and as the flexitarian market moved in, having these products at least close to the taste of what people expect, being able to produce dishes they’re used to cooking was important,” he said.

“I never doubted these products would do well.”

By expounding the benefits of plant-based products and relying on his background in food distribution, Drouin offered to stock his products exclusively at Woolworths.

His pitch was boosted by the offer of a streamlined supply chain.

“We pitched the idea to them that we didn’t want to get distributors involved, that we would have direct relationships where we cut out as many unnecessary margins from the system as possible,” he said.

But it’s not all been smooth sailing. The first batch of plant-based prawns, which are manufactured in Malaysia and made with an Asian root vegetable konjak, also called konnyaku, didn’t quite hit the mark.

“We’ve made some adjustments because the first batch of prawns were slightly too big,” Drouin said.

“The flavour they’ve managed to achieve with this product is amazing, it does taste a lot like prawns. But when the prawn’s slightly too large, it sort of gets a little spongy in the middle, so we made them smaller.

“And the smaller prawns worked better, they take on sauces nicely and caramelise better.”

Perth brothers Adrian and Ilia Gastevski founded Future Farm Co, which distributes plant-based foods made in the US and Netherlands. The meat-free seafood in the Sophie’s Kitchen and Sophie’s Fresh brands include vegan smoked salmon and coconut prawns.

Both brands hit Coles and Woolworths in June this year, accounting for $3 million in turnover so far.

Although plant-based seafood is being warmly accepted by consumers, it’s still tougher to market than plant-based meat, says Gastevski.

Adrian Gastevski is the co-founder of Future Farm Co, which distributes plant-based foods made in the US and Netherlands
Adrian Gastevski is the co-founder of Future Farm Co, which distributes plant-based foods made in the US and Netherlands

“Sales are going really well and we’ve had brilliant uptake, but plant-based seafood is always going to be the one that the mass market will take on last because it’s an easier thing for the mass market to get their heads around plant-based burgers and so on,” he said.

“On social media I was reading ‘Why do I want to eat a prawn that looks and tastes like a prawn but isn’t a prawn, I don’t get it?’ and I feel like answering, ‘Well, by 2050 there won’t be any prawns so unless we do something, we won’t have the choice’.”

Such is the demand for meatless products, Australia is currently the fourth fastest-growing vegan market globally behind the US, Germany and the UK, according to Euromonitor statistics.

But vegan food is nothing new across Asia, where a combination of Buddhist beliefs and pure resourcefulness has long driven people to eat mock meat.

Sydney’s Chris Neo, director at vegetarian food company Lamyong, says the company began selling vegetarian seafood products to Asian groceries in the Sydney suburbs of Cabramatta, Bankstown and Flemington back in the 1990s.

Neo’s father Boon Chong, who founded Lamyong, made vegan fish balls, prawns and abalone with ingredients such as seaweed, konjak and beancurd sheets.

“They were products he was very familiar with because of his upbringing and they aligned with his beliefs that a meat-free diet is healthy and ethical,” Chris said.

Today the company employs 12 people and generates an annual turnover of $2 million with projections it will reach $5 million in 2025. Lamyong’s products are still sold in Asian supermarkets, but changing palettes could one day see them in larger chains.

“Our customers have come a long way,” Chris said.

“People used to get put of by words such as soy, tofu, vegetarian and vegan. But now they are a lot more open and more willing to try and stock the products.”

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