Hong Kong’s OmniFoods targets plant-based seafood

In an ad shared for the first time with CNN Business, the company announced on Tuesday that it is launching a new product line that includes alternatives to fish fillets, fish burgers and pieces of tuna.

“It’s really the great white space that hasn’t been tapped,” said David Yeung, founder of Green Monday Group, the parent company of OmniFoods, in an interview, noting that the announcement was timed to coincide with World Oceans Day. “Everyone obviously focused on the beef, chicken and pork.”

In recent years, OmniFoods has made a name for itself in Asia with OmniPork, its vegetable substitute for pork sold in juicy xiao long bao soup dumplings and McDonald’s meals in Mainland China and Hong Kong. The company also recently launched a meatless spam response.
Yeung said his team have dreamed of coming up with their own take on seafood for at least three years, especially given the important role seafood plays in the diet of consumers in the region. Asia is “by far the biggest consumer of fish”, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, and its demand for seafood gives OmniFoods a “big” opportunity in its territory, Yeung said.

The new products are made from the same ingredients used in the company’s imitation pork, such as soybeans and rice. They will hit restaurants in Hong Kong first starting this month, with plans to roll out into retail and overseas later this year.

The range will also be expanded to include new items, such as plant-based salmon.

Yeung said his company plans to launch the line in mainland China, Southeast Asia, the UK and Australia in the coming months, with the aim of locating its dishes for customers in each market.

Some of them include consumer favorites such as spicy Sichuan fish stew, British fish and chips or Japanese tuna rice rolls, he added.

“Local or regional understanding is paramount,” Yeung said. “We can’t assume that every success in Hong Kong is success in Malaysia. We absolutely cannot assume that. And success in Malaysia certainly doesn’t translate into success in Korea.”

Green Monday Group, which has raised more than $ 100 million to date from investors including celebrities such as James Cameron and Bono, is not shy about expressing its ambitions to go global.

The company recently launched OmniFoods in California and plans to launch Whole Foods in the United States in the third quarter of this year.

“We are totally entering the United States,” Yeung said.

OmniFoods' new vegetable fish burger.

The next frontier

While plant-based seafood “still remains a niche,” it continues to emerge and “get a lot of attention,” according to Felix Wong, senior analyst at Euromonitor International, a market research provider.

The category is expected to grow as consumers seek novelty to avoid the “boredom” of the pandemic, he told CNN Business.

Wong said he sees potential particularly in Asia, “considering that fish and seafood are a key contributor of protein in many Southeast Asian markets such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. “.

OmniFoods is far from the only player to enter space. Last year, Nestlé announced its entry into the category, deployment a vegan tuna product in Switzerland. Impossible has also previously announced that it is working on an alternative fish product.

Yeung shrugged off his concerns when asked about the competition.

“Consumers need choice,” he said. “We don’t [always] eat the same. Like, even [with] pizza, we don’t eat the same brand of pizza. “

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When it comes to educating consumers, the company plans to adopt a playbook similar to the one it did with fake meat. Yeung said he expects to answer some of the same questions he’s been asking since “day one” of his first product launch, such as simply, “What is this? “

To that end, much of the job will be helping paint a picture for customers: touting dishes they can clearly expect, such as the company’s plant-based fish tacos or the ‘burger. without fish fillet ”.

Then there is the sustainability aspect.

Yeung credited Netflix’s hit documentary “Seaspiracy,” with raising awareness of the dangers of overfishing and the need for alternatives.

“It just opens people’s minds [to the fact] that besides the problem on land, we also have problems in the ocean, ”Yeung said.

About Marilyn Perkins

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