The US company Ocean Hugger Foods is the first company in the world to offer realistic, vegan fish alternatives. The company is now preparing for a significant expansion, having gained access to thousands of sales outlets in the USA, Europe and Southeast Asia through various partnerships.
Ocean Hugger Foods is mainly known for its vegan fish alternatives, such as the raw plant-based tuna “Ahimi” and its sushi. The business concept came to certified chef James Corwell when he visited the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo and saw several endangered bluefin and yellowfin tuna being sold one morning. At that point, he realized the ocean could never cope with this demand.
With the concept of plant-based fish alternatives, New York’s Ocean Hugger Foods has occupied a niche that is becoming increasingly popular with consumers due to the growing demand for vegan seafood. In addition, the product differs from others of this type, which are usually made from textured soy, pea or wheat protein with oils, vegetable adhesives, starches and flavours. Corwell, on the other hand, makes his “Ahimi” (alternative to raw tuna) with Roma tomatoes as the main base of the product, the “Sakimi” (salmon) with carrots and the “Unami” (eel) with eggplant.
Instead of concentrating on protein content, Corwell strives for sustainable and organic plant-based ingredients. He has succeeded in giving vegan fish substitutes a firmer structure that gives them the mouthfeel of eating real raw fish. The vegan fish is sold frozen. It can be easily thawed for cooking and behaves like conventional raw fish during cutting and preparation. A patent is still pending, but will be granted soon.
Retail sales started in November 2017. The world’s largest organic supermarket chain “Whole Foods Markets”, which is constantly expanding its range with vegan products and innovations – such as vegan Tahini-Nutella or “Lavva” – has become a new customer and added Ahimi to its product range. The raw tuna alternative was offered in the stores’ sushi bars. According to Ocean Hugger Foods, a lot has happened since then.
“We have contracts with some very large distributors to sell our products all over the world. We have signed contracts to expand into thousands of locations, but this will take time. Nishimoto Trading Company – a strategic partner and investor – operates in the US and Canada as Wismettac Asian Foods and in the UK as Harro Foods. It has agreed to distribute us worldwide, which is really exciting. We are also in discussions with retailers and restaurant chains around the world. That’s why we are now focusing on investing heavily in expanding production capacity to meet this demand,” said David Benzaquen of Ocean Hugger Foods, who previously founded the Plant-Based Solutions brand management and marketing agency for vegan companies.
Other contractual agreements will also ensure that Ahimi is brought to the attention of different consumer groups. For example, the food service giant Aramark ensures that around 30 percent of its main dishes in the areas of health care, universities and business dinners are vegetarian or vegan. And the “Bon Appétit Management Company”, whose customers include Google, is also helping Ocean Hugger Foods to become better known.
Plant-based fish is also a good alternative in terms of price. “Our products are also attractive from a cost perspective. Tomatoes and carrots are significantly cheaper than tuna and salmon, and restaurants can achieve significant cost savings and demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and innovation,” Benzaquen adds.
He also explains that Ocean Hugger Foods wants to meet the needs of consumers who are concerned about the sustainability of fish products. Although many believe that fish is very healthy, catching and breeding is a big problem when it comes to animal welfare and environmental protection. The vegan plant-based fish alternatives do not claim to contain as much protein as possible, but are a healthy, environmentally conscious and sustainable alternative to fish.