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Alternative Proteins Take New Shapes Amid Growing VC, Consumer Interest

Gone are the days when the only protein on a restaurant’s menu guaranteed to be animal cruelty-free was the sad, flavorless black bean patty. Independents and major restaurant chains alike are now serving burger, sausage and chicken replacements that taste very close to their animal-product counterparts.

Now, mainstream alternative proteins are pushing beyond the meat category — Long John Silver’s, the Louisville, Kentucky-based seafood chain with around 700 locations nationwide, announced on Monday (July 19) that it is testing plant-based seafood at a handful of restaurants. Additionally, Chicago-based sustainable food company Nature’s Fynd announced on Monday that it has raised $350 million in its Series C funding round to power the creation of its protein products grown from microbes, and it was reported last week that Nestlé is exploring lab-grown protein options.

At its five test locations, Long John Silver’s is trying out two menu items, the Plant-Based Breaded Fish-Free Fillet and the Plant-Based Breaded Crab-Free Cake. Both are created with proteins from Good Catch, the seafood substitute subsidiary of alternative protein company Gathered Foods. The items are available at two locations in Georgia and three in California. According to the joint news release, these are the first plant-based seafood items available at a national chain. Additionally, the release cites forecasts that the plant-based seafood sector is predicted to grow 1,100 percent over the next decade.

“We work with partners who share the vision of fishing smarter with less environmental impact,” Christopher Caudill, vice president, marketing of Long John Silver’s, said in a statement. “We’re proud to have their plant-based products on our menu as a way to open our doors to a wider customer base who want to experience tasty seafood products in a more sustainable way.”

Nature’s Fynd, meanwhile, is working on developing alternative proteins — not from plants, but from microbes that originate from the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, a protein it calls Fy. The latest $350 million fundraise brings the company’s total funding to more than $500 million. Thomas Jonas, the company’s CEO and co-founder, noted in a prepared statement that the company has proven its ability to scale the company commercially by “leveraging robotics and automation,” noting that the brand’s first two products, a breakfast patty and a cream cheese substitute, sold out within 24 hours of their launch.

Jonas continued, “In 2022, we will bring our branded Fy-based foods to consumers in the U.S., expand to new geographies with a special focus on Asia — where there is a substantial demand and need for sustainable protein — and create multiple brand-aligned partnerships for retail, quick-serve restaurants (QSR) and emerging high-growth channels.”

Earlier in July, Bloomberg reported that Nestlé is exploring the possibility of creating protein products that blend lab-cultured meat with plant products in partnership with Future Meat Technologies, according to inside sources. Nestlé confirmed that the two companies are looking at “innovative technologies to produce cultured meat or cultured-meat ingredients with several external partners and startups.” Nestlé, the largest food company in the world by revenue from food, would have the ability to bring cultured meat from a fringe technology into the mainstream.

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