OmniFoods, the Hong Kong startup best known for its fake pork product “OmniPork,” is jumping on what it sees as the next phenomenon: plant-based seafood.
In an announcement first shared with CNN Business, the company said Tuesday it is launching a new line of products that include alternatives to fish fillets, fish burgers and cuts of tuna.
“It is very much the major white space that has not been tapped,” David Yeung, founder of Green Monday Group, OmniFoods’ parent company, said in an interview, noting the announcement was timed to coincide with World Oceans Day. “Everyone has been obviously focused on beef, chicken, pork.”
Though it still has yet to hit the mainstream, Yeung argues that consumers are ready for vegan seafood, especially as the appetite for plant-based offerings continues to grow and as documentaries, such as the Netflix hit “Seaspiracy,” spark conversation.
“People really are awakening now,” he said.
In recent years, OmniFoods has built a name for itself in Asia with OmniPork, its plant-based pork substitute that is sold in juicy xiao long bao soup dumplings and McDonald’s meals across mainland China and Hong Kong. The company also recently launched a meat-free answer to spam.
Yeung said his team had dreamed of coming up with its own take on seafood for at least three years, particularly because of the large role such foods play in consumers’ diets across the region. Asia is “by far the largest fish consumer,” according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and its demand for seafood gives OmniFoods a “big” opportunity on its home turf, Yeung said.
The new products are crafted from some of the same ingredients used in the company’s pork imitation, such as soy and rice. They will first hit restaurants in Hong Kong starting this month, with plans for retail and overseas rollouts later this year.
The line will also be expanded to include new items, such as plant-based salmon.
Yeung said his company is eyeing a launch for the range in mainland China, Southeast Asia, the United Kingdom and Australia in the coming months, with the goal of localizing its dishes for customers in each market.
Some of those include consumer favorites such as Sichuanese spicy fish stew, British fish and chips or Japanese tuna rice rolls, he added.
“Local or regional understanding is paramount,” said Yeung. “We cannot assume that any success in Hong Kong is a success in Malaysia. We totally cannot assume that. And success in Malaysia certainly doesn’t translate to success in Korea.”
Green Monday Group, which has raised more than $100 million to date from investors including celebrities such as James Cameron and Bono, isn’t shy about its ambitions to go global.
The company recently soft-launched OmniFoods in California, and plans to launch across the United States in Whole Foods in the third quarter of this year.
“We are totally entering the US,” said Yeung.
The next frontier
While plant-based seafood still “remains niche,” it is continuing to emerge and “pull a lot of traction,” according to Felix Wong, a senior analyst at Euromonitor International, a market research provider.
The category is expected to grow as consumers crave novelty to stave off “boredom” from the pandemic, he told CNN Business.
Wong said he especially sees potential in Asia, “considering fish and seafood is a key protein contributor in many Southeast Asian markets like Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.”
OmniFoods is far from the only player breaking into the space. Last year, Nestlé announced its entrance into the category, rolling out a vegan tuna product in Switzerland. Impossible has also previously announced it was working on an alternative fish product.
Yeung shrugged off concerns when asked about competition.
“Consumers need choice,” he said. “We don’t [always] eat the same thing. Like, even [with] pizza, we don’t eat the same brand of pizza.”
When it comes to educating consumers, the company plans to adopt a similar playbook as what it did with fake meat. Yeung said he expects to tackle some of the same questions he’s gotten since “day one” of launching his first product, such as simply: “What is that?”
To that end, much of the job will be about helping paint a picture for customers: touting dishes they can clearly expect, such as the company’s plant-based fish tacos or “filet-no-fish burger.”
Then there is the sustainability aspect.
Yeung credited “Seaspiracy,” with raising awareness of the dangers of overfishing and the need for alternative solutions.
“It just opens people’s minds [to the fact] that besides the problem on land, we also have problems in the ocean,” said Yeung.