California-based Safe Catch has raised $5 million from Echo Capital, Essential Investments and unnamed angel investors. The company said it plans to expand and promote its 100% mercury-tested tuna, seasoned tuna using spice blends, Ahi canned tuna and a new line of canned and pouched salmon. The three-year-old firm has products in almost 10,000 stores in six countries.
Safe Catch has claimed it is the fastest-growing shelf-stable seafood firm in the country and the only one with the technology to test every single fish for mercury in real time. The company said it tests to a limit stricter than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's action level in order to accommodate high-risk consumers and anyone who wants to monitor their mercury levels. About a third of the tuna doesn't pass, in which case Safe Catch doesn't buy it.
Co-founder Bryan Boches said his company initially approached large companies offering to test their fish for mercury, but they weren't interested. "We offered to test for big seafood firms, but they either didn’t think mercury mattered or didn’t think consumers cared,” he said in a release.
Tech Crunch reported that Safe Catch has doubled sales each year and created 22 SKUs since it gave up trying to market the mercury-testing technology to seafood firms and switched over to processing tested fish themselves.
Other seafood processors claim their canned fish products already fall below FDA's 1 part-per-million mercury limit. StarKist states on its website that it has "appropriate testing procedures in place to ensure that both our light meat canned and white meat canned tuna are well below" the agency's limit. Bumble Bee points out that, "Nearly all fish contain traces of methyl mercury," and that canned tuna "meets all health and safety standards set by the FDA ... ."
Despite this ongoing debate, seafood and fish — particularly salmon, tuna and shrimp — remain popular with U.S. consumers. According to a 2017 Retail Seafood Review from Progressive Grocers, wild-caught salmon was the No. 1 item in demand by shoppers, although purchases tend to decline as the cost goes up.
While canned fish also continues to be popular, pouched products have lately come into vogue, particularly with millennials, who find them more convenient than cans. StarKist is offering a line of tuna in pouches featuring different flavor mixes. The company's CEO told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year that on-the-go consumers have pushed sales up 10% each year. Safe Catch also is manufacturing pouched products and recently expanded its lineup with tuna seasoned with various spices and wild pink salmon packaged that way.
Although the convenience factor appeals to consumers, they tend to care more about taste, smell and texture, according to a study from researchers at Vancouver Island University and Duke University. As a result, it may be more important that Safe Catch packs its fish raw and then slow-cooks it in the can to help preserve omega-3s, vitamins and minerals.
In addition, Safe Catch said it refuses to buy fish from unregulated boats that potentially use slave labor, and that it does everything it can to certify the methods used to catch the fish do not harm dolphins.
The company seems to be hitting the points consumers care most about — taste, health, safety, convenience and human and animal rights. But what about cost? Safe Catch canned tuna is available online in packs of six or 12 cans for about $3.50 per 5-ounce can, more than twice the price of a similar can of StarKist or Bumble Bee tuna. It's up to consumers to decide whether knowing their tuna has been tested for mercury and passed company muster — plus all those other aspects — is worth paying that much more. So far, a growing number apparently thinks it is.