San Francisco-based startup Terramino Foods has created a faux salmon burger out of fungi and algae, according to Fast Company. The product reportedly looks, tastes and smells like the real thing. Like the fish, the imitation salmon is a complete protein source with omega-3 fatty acids, but it contains less fat.
Kimberlie Le and Joshua Nixon, co-founders of Terramino Foods, are University of California-Berkeley graduates who just completed a four-month accelerator program run by biotech IndieBio. The program provided $250,000 in seed money, plus mentoring and lab and workspace facilities.
The company plans to scale up production of its salmon burger in 2019 and make its product cost competitive with the average wholesale price of salmon. Terramino hopes to sell its products to restaurants by the end of this year and develop a fish fillet product.
The plant-based meat revolution caught fire with both consumers and the food industry, spurring investments from major protein producers like Tyson and Cargill, but the majority of this innovation has focused on imitation beef and poultry. Impossible Foods, the California startup behind the plant-based Impossible Burger, signaled its intention last year to develop a plant-based fish product, but it hasn't debuted yet. Like the Impossible Burger, the product would also contain heme, an iron-containing molecule extracted from soybeans using technology patented by company founder and CEO Pat Brown.
If Terramino Foods' is able to get its product in restaurants this year, it could have a first mover advantage in what appears to be a lucrative and untapped segment. Given the popularity of the Impossible Burger and its competitor, the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat, it's not a stretch to imagine a plant-based salmon burger attracting consumer interest — as long as it delivers the taste and mouthfeel that consumers expect from real salmon.
In the U.S., fish consumption dropped to 14.6 pounds per person per year in 2015, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, despite the FDA's recommendation of 26 to 39 pounds per person per year. This doesn't necessarily reflect lack of consumer interest, however — the slump is blamed on the relatively high cost of fish and seafood, and a lack of knowledge of how to prepare these products at home. If Terramino is able to bring its product down to the wholesale cost of real salmon, the product's value adds could tip the scales in it's direction. Plant-based fish carries no risk of pollution by microplastics, antibiotics or mercury. It's also more environmentally sustainable than traditionally harvested or farmed fish, and it's vegan. Plus, there's no mystery surrounding its sourcing or supply chain, as is often the case with store or restaurant-bought seafood. If companies like Terramino and Impossible Foods can succeed with alternative fish products in restaurants, they could capture strong consumer spending in grocery stores if they can market these benefits well.
Alison Roman of The Wall Street Journal recently taste-tested the Terramino fake salmon burger, along with four other plant-based meat and seafood substitutes. She said the product is convincing with its pale-pink color and flaky texture, which mimic salmon.However, she noted that "They're still dialing in the flavor, exploring the fine line between something that tastes like fish and something that tastes fishy, but when it comes to sustainable seafood, this is a company to watch."
Salmon is one of the most popular types of fish consumed in the U.S., so it's smart for a company like Terramino to introduce a plant-derived version of it. Once consumers become comfortable with the idea of plant-based fish, there could be opportunity to expand into different fish types and seafood varieties. Given ever-growing consumer demand for plant-based proteins and sustainably sourced food, these products could make waves in the protein segment.