Chris Kerr, CEO and co-founder of Good Catch and its parent company Gathered Foods, grew up eating frozen breaded fish sticks. He never liked them.
The memory of that frozen fish shaped his thinking around Good Catch's three new frozen products: New England Style Plant-Based Crab Cakes, Thai Style Plant-Based Fish Cakes and Classic Plant-Based Fish Burgers. These items, which are the plant-based seafood company's first frozen offerings, have no breading. Kerr told Food Dive that is a tried and true way to hide a product's flaws.
"What we didn't want to do was downgrade our product to hide imperfections," Kerr said. "And we can always add breading. Taking breading away would be the hard part if you've got a product that's subpar. We knew that we were going to hit a bar. We had to come out with a product that could stand up on its own. And this is it."
Good Catch, the first CPG brand from umbrella corporation Gathered Foods, launched in 2016 with plant-based shelf-stable tuna. Kerr said that canned tuna is an important staple, but it's more of a "utility food" and not something consumers would build meals around.
"What we wanted to do is help create a better curated culinary experience," Kerr said. "And so in that sense, we wanted finished products that could be heated and served. We've been waiting a long time for this."
Kerr said the three new products were actually developed two years ago, but there was a lot to do between producing the prototype and getting it ready to go to market. The biggest thing was building a factory to make the product. The 42,000-square-foot facility in Heath, Ohio just started operating at the end of May, Kerr said.
Unlike Good Catch's shelf-stable tuna pouches, which undergo a second cooking process, the frozen products get their final cooking at consumers' homes. They are made from the same base protein as the tuna product — a blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans, with umami flavor from seaweed and algae extracts — and things like spices, flavorings and vegetables are varied.
Good Catch's food science and culinary team spent a long time getting the flavor and mouthfeel right, especially considering these products are meant to be more of a meal anchor. Kerr said the end result is a clean tasting and feeling product.
While there are many alternative protein companies working on plant-based fish, Good Catch has long had the advantage of being one of the first to get to market. There are not many other plant-based options for shelf-stable fish currently on shelves, and Good Catch is also almost alone in the plant-based frozen fish category. Conagra Brands' Gardein also makes plant-based fish fillets and miniature crab cakes, but both of these products are breaded.
Aside from the new launch, it's been a big year for Good Catch and Gathered Foods. The company started with a $32 million funding round in January, which hooked big partnerships with others in the food business for the startup, including General Mills' venture arm 301 Inc and Lightlife's parent company Greenleaf Foods. This funding helped pay for the plant and new product launches, but is also helping Good Catch plan expansions in Europe.
Kerr said Good Catch is in the learning phases of international expansion, though the company currently has distribution in the U.K., Netherlands, Scandinavia and Spain. Most of what is going on currently is data collection, since taste in seafood tends to be more regional, Kerr said. Once the data is in, and now that the factory is operational, a wider rollout will occur.
Another huge thing that has happened for Good Catch this year is a distribution and logistics partnership with canned tuna giant Bumble Bee Foods. Kerr said this partnership has been incredible in terms of making Good Catch available to consumers. As Good Catch's distributor, Kerr said Bumble Bee played a role for every consumer who found Good Catch products on shelves and purchased them
"They've got reach. We needed reach," Kerr said. "We needed to make our food convenient, and we needed to be where consumers were looking for it, which is the seafood aisle. Most vegan foods get put into some type of a vegan penalty box. They won't reach mass market. They [Bumble Bee] know how to get squarely into the seafood aisle, and that has been critical for us."
Aside from a deep penetration in grocery logistics, Bumble Bee owns Anova Food, which sells prime seafood to foodservice. Kerr said that Bumble Bee will help get Good Catch into that channel eventually, but plans to do so have been put on hold as the coronavirus pandemic has slowed restaurant business.
Good Catch also recently reported several celebrity investments. Woody Harrelson, Shailene Woodley, Paris Hilton and Lance Bass have all put money toward the company. Kerr said these investments help build the company's profile and awareness among consumers, and go a long way to help the company grow.
While these new products are a big launch for Good Catch, Kerr said there is more to come in the near future from Gathered Foods. The main goal, he said, is to continue to produce quality products for consumers — something he feels these new frozen products accomplish.
"What we're trying to do is avoid the disappointment that sometimes comes with these products. Not just plant-based products, but all products," he said. "Ultimately this is one of those things that these offerings are: they are pure joy."