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. 

Continuing Into 2023 With Impact Front and Center

Team meeting

One key way Finless works to embody our mission—to create a future for seafood where the ocean thrives—is by regularly seeking guidance from our first-of-its-kind Impact Advisory Board, which is made up of three respected subject-matter experts from the ocean conservation and seafood communities who represent different experiences, views, and backgrounds. 

In late November, we brought our Impact Advisory Board together for a 3-day workshop in Napa, CA. The board members joined our strategy team and our executive leadership team, including Chief Executive Officer Michael Selden, Chief Innovation Officer Brian Wyras, Chief Strategy Officer Shannon Consentino-Roush, and Chief Operating Officer Daniel Coyle, to explore how Finless can maximize our ocean impact as we continue to grow in 2023.

The workshop kicked off with a tour of our pilot facility in Emeryville, CA, where Impact Advisory Board members donned lab coats and joined Chief Innovation Officer Brian Wyras who gave us an incredibly informative tour of our new food lab. This is where the magic happens!

After the tour, the board traveled to Napa, where the Finless strategy and executive leadership teams presented a year-in-review overview of Finless’ growth, successes, and impact during 2022. That presentation included updates to the Finless team, which has grown to more than 50 people and includes new positions like Head of Manufacturing and Facilities and Director of Tissue Engineering, the successful market launch of our plant-based tuna, and Finless’ thought leadership at conferences around the world.

Next, we kicked off a workshop session that focused on what we mean when we say we are working towards a “thriving ocean” and how specifically Finless will work towards that goal. We discussed sustainability goals for 2023, which will span 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 meat, seafood, eggs and dairy companies to reveal their climate, biodiversity, nutrition, and other environmental, social, and governance (ESG) impacts. We also discussed draft impact metrics that will allow us to measure our sustainability and impact progress.

On the final day of the workshop, we discussed future species selection for both our cell-cultured and plant-based products. We drew on the board members’ ocean conservation and seafood expertise to work through draft sustainability criteria that will help us ensure we properly consider sustainability when selecting new species for Finless products. The Impact Advisory Board helped us narrow our scope to focus on cultivating a handful of high impact species in the near future.

We did, of course, take advantage of the workshop location to enjoy some of Napa’s great wine and food with our board members. Our discussions around sustainability and impact started each day in a conference room and continued during sustainable winery wine tastings and excellent farm-to-table meals. A great balance of thoughtful discussion and great company made for another successful Impact Advisory Board meeting, and we all left the workshop excited for what Finless will accomplish in 2023 as we continue to work towards our mission.

Meet our Impact Advisory Board:

Dick Jones is the CEO of Blue Ocean Mariculture, currently the only open-ocean fish aquaculture company in the U.S. His passion for the ocean started very early in life and his diverse career includes 14 years overseeing seafood operations at Whole Foods Market and HEB Grocery. Over the past 12 years, Dick has been a leader in the non-profit sector and is a co-founder of Sea Pact and founding trustee of ThinkAqua. He has served as a Director or Advisor to several organizations, including the California Salmon Council, Aquaculture Certification Council, Conservation Alliance for Seafood Solutions, World Resources Institute, Fair Trade USA, and Ocean Outcomes.

Dr. John N. (“Jack”) Kittinger is the Senior Director of the Global Fisheries and Aquaculture Program in Conservation International’s Center for Oceans and a Professor of Practice in Arizona State University’s Global Futures Laboratory and School of Sustainability. Under his leadership, CI works to protect biodiversity and improve the wellbeing of ocean-dependent communities by implementing sustainable fisheries and aquaculture solutions built on partnerships and investments from ocean to plate. A lifelong surfer, fisherman, and waterman, he is committed to ocean-based learning experiences and to being in the water as often as possible. Dr. Jack Kittinger and his family currently live in Niu Valley, Oahu, Hawaii.

Michael Sutton, an internationally respected leader in environmental conservation, is the Executive Director of the Goldman Environmental Foundation. Before his role at the Foundation, Sutton received a Bachelor’s Degree in Wildlife Biology and Law Degree in International and Natural Resources Law. After his studies, Sutton served several leadership roles in conservation, such as National Park Ranger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Agent, President of the California Fish & Game Commission, Professor of Natural Resources Law, and Author of Ocean & Coastal Law and Policy. He also launched the first WWF Endangered Seas Campaign, conserved wild salmon at the Wild Salmon Center, founded the Center for the Future of the Oceans at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and much more. Michael resides in Carmel Valley, California where his passion for preservation continues through managing nonprofit organizations, influencing public policy, advocating for environmental protection, and guiding successful philanthropic efforts.