How Finless Foods is Working to Save the Oceans with Delicious Foods

Originally featured on Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA) — the organization interviewed our very own, Lauren Latchford, Policy and Impact Manager at Finless Foods. With an extensive background in fish habitat protection and Atlantic highly migratory species management, Latchford was drawn to Finless Foods with an ambitious plan to dive into ocean conservation head first. Now equipped with an informed, sustainable mission and a delicious product to boot, Finless Foods enters this year poised to advance a future for seafood in which the ocean thrives. Read her full interview below:

One of the goals of this series is to help shine a light on the stories and individuals behind the companies. Can you tell us a bit more about your background and how you came to work in the plant-based food space? 

First, let me tell you: I am a HUGE fish nerd! So I’m going to be gushing about fish throughout this spotlight. I have a background in fisheries management and policy. Prior to coming to Finless Foods, I worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, a.k.a. NOAA Fisheries, for eight years on fish habitat protection and Atlantic highly migratory species (tunas, sharks, billfish, and swordfish) management. Those two areas really gave me insight into how our federal government protects and manages our most vulnerable fish habitats and species, all while increasing our domestic seafood supply.

It’s a delicate balance, especially as we are seeing climate impacts on our ocean ecosystems and commercial catches of wild species plateau. I felt the urge to do something more to conserve our wild-caught fisheries and help manage our global seafood consumption, and that’s when I came across Finless Foods. Finless envisions a future where our ocean benefits from diverse seafood consumption that includes alternatives like plant-based seafood. I’m excited to be working for a company that has delicious plant-based seafood options that are good for you and good for the planet. 

What is your big “why” for working in the plant-based food industry? Is there a particular cause or fact that you learned that motivated your work and passion?

Finless Foods’ mission answered my big “why” for working in the plant-based food industry: Finless wants to create a future for seafood where the ocean thrives. With global challenges to ocean health such as climate change, overfishing, and plastic pollution, it’s more important than ever to be proactive and embrace innovations like plant-based seafood. While plant-based seafood accounts for less than one percent of the total plant-based meat and seafood market, conventional seafood accounts for one-fifth of total conventional meat and seafood sales. This share suggests that plant-based seafood represents a significant white space.

And when thinking about our plant-based tuna, tuna is the most consumed and second most wild-caught fish in the world. These species can take anywhere from 4-6 years to mature and they live an average of 15 years, but some can live over 40 years! By diversifying our consumption to include plant-based options alongside wild-caught, farm-raised, and cell-cultured food products, we can reduce the pressure on tuna stocks and other in-demand species. So we think offering a delicious plant-based alternative to tuna is one way to make a big difference.

What do people need to know about Finless Foods’ mission, values, and objectives?

Finless was founded on the central mission ‘to create a future for seafood where the ocean thrives.’ We strive to do so by producing alternative, sustainable seafood products, both plant-based and cell-cultured, starting with tuna, that can satisfy your cravings for your favorite seafood dishes while also diversifying our sources of seafood supply to reduce pressure on global fisheries in support of a thriving ocean.

Finless’ mission serves as our daily North Star, guiding everything we do from developing our forward-looking business strategy to the near-term product pipeline, all so that we can maximize our positive impact on the ocean.

We see from your blog that the Finless Foods team plays an active part in conservation, ocean, and wetland protection in your community. Can you share more with us about the team’s experience volunteering in coastal cleanups and giving back to the wildlife communities of the Bay Area? 

At Finless, we live out our mission not just by creating plant-based seafood – but also by taking responsibility for our choices that affect the environment. That’s why Finless Foods gives back to our community and our planet through volunteer days.

On September 14th, 2022, our team volunteered with the Golden Gate Audubon Society in honor of California’s 38th annual Coastal Cleanup Day. We headed to Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park in Oakland, just eight miles south of our headquarters in Emeryville, and spent quality time outdoors beautifying our local coastline. Martin Luther King Jr. Regional Shoreline Park has experienced a significant decline in species due to a lack of native plants. What was previously 2000 acres of wetland, 750 acres remain. We set out to remove as many invasive plants as possible, and by the end of the morning, we had removed four 30-gallon bags of invasive plants from the coastline and countless bags of trash. The team felt such a huge sense of accomplishment and is eager to do more for the wildlife communities around the Bay. We have already started planning our next volunteer day for April 2023.  

Can you tell us more about the innovative ingredients used to make Finless Foods tuna?

Finless plant-based poke-style tuna is minimally processed, low in sodium, contains Omega-3 fatty acids, and is made of nine whole, plant-based ingredients to mimic the taste and texture of wild-caught tuna. The main ingredient is a superfood called ‘Ash Gourd’ — better known as winter melon. Winter melons are comprised of 96% water and are very low in calories, fat, protein, and carbohydrates. We chose winter melon because the dehydration and stewing process allows us to mimic mouth-feel and bite that more closely resembles a structured piece like poke and it takes to flavors really well.

Finless Foods speaks about ‘impact’ online and has set a commendable goal of a holistically impactful 2023. With climate change’s harmful impact on the natural biodiversity and wildlife habitats of our oceans, lakes, rivers, and beyond, what are your plans to make an impact in the coming year and how did you decide to prioritize? 

Finless Foods puts its impact front and center and that is why we have a first-of-its-kind Impact Board to serve as a brain trust of ocean and sustainable seafood experts that inform Finless’ forward-looking business strategy, from product pipeline to stakeholder engagement.

We recently met with our Impact Board to discuss our 2023 sustainability goals and future species selection for our alternative seafood. Our sustainability goals will inform how we determine our facility manufacturing, lab practices, and supply chain management. These goals will align with the FAIRR & GFI Alternative Proteins ESG Reporting Framework, a first-of-its-kind framework for alternative food companies, including plant-based companies, to reveal their climate, biodiversity, nutrition, and other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impacts. And for our future species selection, we developed sustainability criteria that will help us ensure we properly consider sustainability when selecting new species for Finless products. We’re excited about 2023 and look forward to revealing our new products to you soon!

Based on your experience, what advice would you share with other aspiring plant-based founders? 

Passions can take many forms and shift over time. For me, my passion for fisheries started by managing commercial fishing and shifted to finding innovative ways to keep our oceans healthy while providing delicious plant-based seafood to consumers. It’s scary to make the transition, but jump in with two feet and you’ll be surprised how much your previous skills can help your future self and future career in the plant-based space. 

Can you give us a sneak peek into any notable news or exciting product launches in the pipeline for 2022? 

Finless is hard at work creating sustainable, delicious, and versatile cell-cultured and plant-based seafood alternatives, tackling tuna first and then expanding to additional species. Not only will this supply an additional source of tuna alternatives to reduce pressure on global, wild-capture tuna stocks, but it also enables consumers to diversify the ways they enjoy the popular and crave-able seafood dishes they love, like poke and sushi, so that it’s good for us, and good for the ocean. Follow us on social to be the first to know about future product launches — coming soon! 

Where can we learn more about Finless Foods? 

Consumers interested in our plant-based tuna can learn more about our company, mission, and products by visiting our website: Foodservice operators interested in learning more about our offerings can visit our culinary website: Finless fans can also follow us on Twitter (@finlessfoods), Instagram (@finlessfoods), Facebook (@Finlessfoods), and LinkedIn (/finlessfoods). 

2023 National Fisheries Institute’s Global Seafood Market Conference Recap

In mid-January, Finless Foods staff, Lauren Latchford and Shannon Cosentino-Roush journeyed to the La Quinta Resort and Spa in Palm Springs, California to attend the 2023 National Fisheries Institute’s Global Seafood Market Conference. If you’ve read our past blogs, you’ll know that Lauren and Shannon attended their first NFI conference in 2022, so they were keen to return to catch up with colleagues in the seafood industry, get up to speed on seafood forecasts for 2023, and talk about cell-cultured and plant-based tuna.

This year’s NFI’s GSMC was met with mixed emotions. The recent passing of John Connelly, President and CEO of NFI for nearly 20 years, was difficult for all members, colleagues, and friends. John had a significant impact on the seafood space and helped usher the path forward in building relationships between the conventional seafood industry, aquaculture, and most recently, cell-cultured seafood. In 2021, Finless worked with the National Fisheries Institute to submit a joint public comment to the FDA’s Request for Information on Labeling of Foods Comprised or Containing Cultured Seafood Cells in which we jointly supported truthful, non-misleading, descriptive, and clear product labeling and the use of qualifiers in product names to differentiate cell-cultured seafood from conventionally produced wild or farmed seafood products. It was the relationship that John and Finless cultivated together, and his pioneering approach to the seafood industry that made this joint letter, and lasting relationship, possible. 

Finless was most interested in hearing the plenary on how seafood measured up against other proteins, namely beef. Performance Food Group President of Protein Brands Steve Sands 

Provided beef projections, which illustrated a near-future shortage of beef. He used this shortage to lay out all the ways seafood could take advantage of the market share and move into the spotlight. We would be remiss not to mention that Sands touted cell-cultured technologies as the future of the beef industry, and offered advice to the seafood industry to do the same. Finless couldn’t have been happier to hear those words, which helped to strike up more conversations with colleagues over the conference, and led to an excellent turnout at the Protein of the Future panel.  

This year NFI wanted to shine a light on alternative seafood and offered a panel, Protein of the Future, that discussed the opportunities and challenges of the aquaculture, cell-cultured, and plate-based seafood space. We were delighted to get an email from NFI requesting our expertise on this panel alongside Lou Cooperhouse of Blue Nalu and Sylvia Wulff of AquaBounty. The panel was hosted by Dylan Howell, of Hatch. Together, we discussed seafood growth trajectories, illustrating the increasing demand for seafood, and how wild-caught seafood will need help in meeting that demand from other innovative methods such as aquaculture and alternatives. For cell-cultured technologies, opportunities include offering a consistent and traceable seafood supply chain that complements wild and farm-raised species. In addition, cell-cultured seafood can provide delicious and nutritious seafood all while allowing our oceans to thrive. The difficulty lies with obtaining equipment to scale and the capital expenditure to bring the product to market. For plant-based alternatives, opportunities lie in the consumer wanting expanded choices for health and wellness, sustainability, and improving food security and resilience. With equal importance, plant-based seafood has the potential to mitigate the environmental impacts on our food system. The challenge lies with building-up and scaling ingredient supply chains, differentiating brands in an increasingly competitive market, expanding consumer adoption, and improving product performance.

Shannon did a fabulous job speaking to plant-based seafood, offering insights on cell-cultured products, and answering engaging questions from the audience. Most importantly, NFI’s new President, Lisa Wallenda Picard, was in attendance and expressed her excitement at what she had learned, and her desire to hear more about these innovative industries. Overall NFI 2023 was a great success and we look forward to next year’s conference. 

A Promising Start with Plant Futures

This fall semester, Finless Foods partnered with the Plant Futures Initiative and worked with four UC Berkeley students to help envision the future of cell-cultured seafood. Now that the project has wrapped, we wanted to feature some of our Plant Futures team and what this project/work means to them.

The Plant Futures Initiative is “working to accelerate the transition to a plant-centric food system by ensuring students become ethical leaders, systems thinkers and effective advocates for a plant-centric future.” It is a global movement at the intersection of public health, social justice, climate justice, and animal welfare and is helping to build this system in part by partnering students with innovative companies for semester-long projects.

At the end of the semester, the team shared an insightful presentation of industry research and communication strategies to propel our cell-cultured products forward into the market. 

Working with our Plant Futures team was an inspiring and eye-opening experience to see the endless potential in what passionate, change-driven individuals can accomplish when we come together. Please meet some of the team:

Ashley Yip

B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Data Science at UC Berkeley, class of 2023 

What drew you to Plant Futures and what does the mission mean to you? 

I have always been interested in a career in sustainability… having grown up in food-haven Singapore, I wanted to learn more about sustainable food systems. Plant Futures represents a future in food systems that can have a significant and positive impact on sustainability, and there are so many exciting innovations happening in the space! It is just inspiring to be around others who are passionate about the issue at hand as well.

What challenges and issues are you hoping to address by joining Plant Futures? 

I hope to be able to understand the growth opportunities, threats, and future of alternative protein products. This is a space that is quickly growing in Asia as well, and better understanding the innovations that root themselves in the US’s invigorating R&D space, the hope is to integrate these best practices in the space into Asia.

What are you hoping to see more of in the future in the plant-based and cell-cultured space? 

In terms of scalability, I hope that it becomes more normalized as an affordable, daily option for food. I hope it is scaled past the United States to find space in the market within Asia in a culturally-appropriate manner, while also tackling rampant food insecurity.

How does seafood fit into your life? 

I am from Singapore – and seafood, while common to eat – is often seen as a larger expense… but because it is most common in sharing plates, it represents reunion and family as well. Therefore, to me, seafood is a symbol for family reunions.

Remi Tateishi

B.A. in Media Studies with a minor in Japanese Language and Literature at UC Berkeley, class of 2022

What drew you to Plant Futures and what does the mission mean to you? 

I decided to take the Plant Futures Challenge Lab course for a few reasons. First, food is my passion, and I hope to enter a career in the food and beverage industry. My passion for food has always been nourishment for my soul. I believe that the elegance of a simple meal, carefully prepared, using ingredients that are fresh, local, and sustainable is an important component of my life.

What challenges and issues are you hoping to address by joining Plant Futures? 

I am deeply concerned about pressing issues such as climate change, dwindling biodiversity, and the detrimental effects of industrially raised cattle that harm our earth. I hope to somehow contribute to increasing public awareness of such issues through work with plant-based food companies.

What are you hoping to see more of in the future in the plant-based and cell-cultured space? 

I’m hoping to see more alternative meat and seafood products that are catered toward the Asian palate. The majority of alternative meat and seafood products widely available in the US seem to be catered toward the Western palate. I also think that Asian alternative meat and seafood products would be a great gateway into the countries in Asia where the vegan movement has not gained much traction.

How does seafood fit into your life? 

I come from a culture where seafood is an essential part of the diet. In Japan, fish has been the main source of animal protein for centuries as it is the fastest and most readily available food source. However, I recognize that many species of fish such as tuna are unsustainable. The rising demand for tuna in Japan and across the globe has placed growing strain/pressure on our finite global fisheries. I strongly believe in Finless Foods’ mission, and I’m honored to work with them to explore plant-based and cell-cultured seafood products!

It was an absolute delight working with the students from UC Berkeley and we can’t wait to see what they accomplish next!