Van Cleve Seafood Co. Dives Into Plant-Based Seafood
The Virginia-based Van Cleve Seafood Company is dipping its toes into the plant-based seafood category, the first conventional seafood company to do so.

While plant-based seafood has been growing for some time, with startups like Good Catch and Ocean Hugger joining the ranks of Gardein (which sells Fishless Fillets and Crabless Cakes) and Quorn (which sells Fishless Sticks), the Van Cleve Seafood Co. is the first company to leverage its experience with conventional seafood to make delicious plant-based products. As meat companies like Tyson and Smithfield have been increasingly diving into the plant-based meat space, the Van Cleve Seafood Co. may very well be at the forefront of a similar trend in plant-based seafood.

The new plant-based shrimp and crabless cakes are being released under a new line, called Wild.Skinny.Clean, which also includes a “superfood topper” for seafood. The plant-based Crab-less Cake and Plant-Based Shrimp are already available online and will debut in national retail in early 2020.

Focusing on flavor

The Van Cleve Seafood Co. is no stranger to delicious products. Their blue crab pie received a major vote of confidence when it was featured on Oprah Winfrey's list of favorite things in 2017. Starting as a small restaurant, the women-owned company rapidly expanded and now focuses exclusively on wholesale production. And now it’s leveraging its seafood know-how to make delicious plant-based products. Their plant-based shrimp prominently features the ingredient konjac, which is a plant most commonly eaten in Japan and known for its “fishy smell” — it’s even been used in thin strips as an alternative to shark in shark fin soup! The crabless cakes’ main ingredients are artichokes and hearts of palm, with ocean flavor and aroma coming from sea kelp. “You can’t tell the difference between our plant-based crab cake and our real crab cake nor can you tell the difference between our shrimp and our plant-based shrimp,” Van Cleve told Seafood Source.

Van Cleve’s Plant-Based Coconut Battered Shrimp | Image courtesy of Van Cleve Seafood Company

Expanding consumer choice

While the Van Cleve Seafood Co. will still sell conventional seafood, including their more indulgent products, the new Wild.Skinny.Clean line is intended to expand the menu of options to consumers. “It’s an evolution going on; it’s giving consumers a choice. We have a real crab cake and a plant-based crab cake,” Van Cleve told Seafood Source, “There are a lot of flexitarians who are putting more plant-based products in their diets.”

The new products were inspired not only by the recent trends in the plant-based category as the industry works to cater to a flexitarian audience but also by the shopping habits of the younger members of the Van Cleve family. “It is not a trend or a fad, it is the future and the future is now,” Van Cleve said. The company has identified a new market opportunity and is expanding to take advantage of it.

While The Van Cleve Seafood Co. is the first conventional seafood company to put out their own plant-based line, they are not the only company thinking about how to make seafood in novel ways. Several startups around the world are perfecting plant-based and cultivated seafood products that will give consumers the exact sensory experience they expect from seafood without the sustainability, public health, and animal welfare concerns associated with the current industry. And meat companies are starting to pay attention too. Tyson Ventures announced its investment in plant-based seafood maker New Wave Foods this September.

Expect a lot more where this came from. As plant-based food becomes even more mainstream and cultivated seafood moves closer to hitting the market, these developments are just the tip of the iceberg.

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