The last twelve months has seen a huge surge in vegan seafood and investment into various plantbased seafood manufacturers around the world. Sophie’s Kitchen has been offering gourmet vegan seafood products such as crab meat, shrimp, scallops, “toona,” and smoked salmon since 2011 and as such are way ahead of the game.
Founded by Eugene Wang and based in Sebastapol, California, Sophie’s Kitchen pioneered the first gluten-free, plant-based seafood alternatives which are widely available in supermarkets throughout the US. CEO Miles Woodruff spoke to us about plantbased seafood and why it is necessary at this point in time.
How did Sophie’s Kitchen founder, Eugene Wang, recognize the demand for plant-based seafood alternatives?
Actually, he didn’t recognize the demand — he recognized the opportunity and need for change and then created the plant-based seafood category around that need. Ten years ago, Eugene discovered his daughter was allergic to shellfish and he decided to make vegan seafood, that was non-GMO, gluten free, soy free and kosher. He wanted to develop food he would want to feed his own daughter. Even though the market wasn’t ready, he just kept trudging along because he truly believed that the change was needed.
When did you get involved with the company?
In May 2019, I had just concurrently finished a Ph.D. based on the conservation work I did with Jane Goodall in the Congo and an MBA in sustainable enterprise. Eugene brought me on 6 months ago to take the company into its growth phase. He also wanted to step back from managing Sophie’s Kitchen so he could work full time on another Temasek-backed plant-based company that he founded.
How have you seen the company change and grow since then?
Our revenue increased about 4X between 2018 and 2019. Over the last 6 months, we also secured several large and exciting partnerships that are allowing us to scale at what would normally be an extraordinary rate over the next several years. We also built out several components of our core growth team.
What are the benefits of Sophie’s Kitchen products over animal protein? Why should someone choose your products?
We taste great! Our products don’t have the cholesterol or levels of heavy metals, toxins or micro plastics that come in regular seafood products. We have a smaller eco-footprint that traditional animal products. We are an ethical brand and don’t harm or kill animals to make our products.
What geographical areas are Sophie’s Kitchen products available in?
Our products are available across the U.S. and the world. See our product locator at sophieskitchen.com
Which retailers carry Sophie’s Kitchen products?
There is a huge variety of stores that carry our products. The go-to retailer is Sprouts Farmers market for our shrimp, salmon, crab cakes, and fish. For our Toona products, Amazon is the best place to find us.
How many products are in the Sophie’s Kitchen line? Can you describe a couple of the most popular?
In the U.S., our main products are plant-based:
- Breaded shrimp
- Breaded fish fillet
- Smoked salmon
- Crab cakes
- Black pepper Toona
- Sea Salt Toona
In our international markets, we also sell naked prawns and scallops.
What are some opportunities for growth and market penetration that you’ve identified for Sophie’s Kitchen?
We have been focused on health and specialty retail outlets. This year we will be expanding to conventional grocery and food service.
How urgent is the need for plant-based seafood alternatives? Why?
It is very urgent. I would direct anyone who wants to know about the challenges or just how much opportunity there is to turn things around to Seafoodwatch.org. We are not out to make people wrong or feel bad for what they like to eat. We have created great tasting plant-based alternatives to their favorite foods so they can feel good about what they are eating without giving anything up.
Why did your company decide to promote Veganuary so much?
We have recently pivoted a bit as a company. We now see it as our corporate responsibility to change the status quo of food production. Sophie’s Kitchen is the platform we use to drive positive social and environmental change at scale. Producing amazing plant-based seafood alternatives is our method for doing that. Veganuary is an NGO that is doing great work in the direction we want the world to head in. They aren’t bashing anyone. They are providing important information and inviting people to have fun with trying something new. That is also what we are about as a brand.
On a personal note, I actually went plant-based as the result of Jane Goodall telling me I should for years, but the tipping point was a social media post by Ed Winters “Earthling Ed” where he reasoned out the case for plant-based eating. Because it was a social media post that ultimately caused me to shift, I am doubly behind Veganuary’s social media tactics.
What would you say to other companies (and individuals) to inspire them to consider promoting Veganuary 2021?
We are in an amazing and important point in history where corporations, celebrities and everyday people can turn around deeply-rooted and destructive systems. Companies can help simply by providing access to alternatives that taste great and the market wants. Veganuary is a frontline conservation institution as far as I am concerned. As a conservationist myself, who spent years in the Congo working for Jane Goodall to preserve wildlife, I can tell you the most important part of conservation is educating people in a way where they discover for themselves why they want to change their behavior in a positive direction.
No individual can divest from fossil fuel today or maybe even in this lifetime. Every person can, on the other hand, choose to divest from animal-based products with a simple decision. One meal at a time, one day at a time or one month at a time. By promoting Veganuary, we are all using the tools at our disposal to drive a positive change within our sphere of influence.