Who’s Buying Plant-Based Fish and Seafood?

In alternative protein circles, there’s been a lot of talk lately about fish and seafood. While most of the innovation in recent years has centered on plant-based beef and burgers, progress on alternative chicken, pork, and seafood has been relatively slow. But that’s about to change with an expanded focus that includes other types of animal products, especially fish and seafood. 

It’s easy to understand why. The planet’s oceans are under attack from multiple angles like overfishing and pollution. Billions of aquatic creatures are caught and killed for food every year while others suffer from pollutants and toxins. Commercial fishing cannot continue much longer and we desperately need alternative, sustainable seafood options. 

While fish and seafood are dietary staples in many parts of the world, they are consumed relatively infrequently in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, just 20% of U.S. adults consume fish/seafood two or more times per week. So how do these consumers differ from everyone else when it comes to plant-based fish and seafood options? 

To find the answers, we look to the exclusive Cultivate Insights report, Plant-Based Buyers and Their Favorite Brands. In that report, we developed detailed profiles for recent buyers of each of the major plant-based food segments, including fish/seafood. What we found should be of interest to any company making and/or selling alternative fish or seafood products. 

Small Fish, Growing Pond

When it comes to plant-based meat alternatives, fish/seafood is arguably the least mature category. Cultivate Insights data indicated that fish/seafood ranked last in popularity among plant-based meats. About one in four plant-based buyers had specifically purchased plant-based fish/seafood in the past three months. Just one in twenty-three plant-based buyers had purchased the category weekly or more often. 

Plant-Based Fish/Seafood Purchases Among Plant-Based Buyers

Chart for frequency of plant-based fish/seafood purchases
Frequency of plant-based fish/seafood purchases among consumers who had purchased any plant-based foods in the past three months.

The plant-based phenomenon we’re currently witnessing is being driven by part-time vegetarians and vegans. As a result, the vast majority of plant-based fish/seafood buyers also buy traditional seafood products (the same is true for other alternative meats as well). Specifically, nine in ten plant-based fish/seafood buyers also consumed conventional seafood in the past three months, according to Cultivate Insights research. 

Seafood Buyers, Profiled

In general, plant-based fish/seafood buyers are similar to plant-based buyers overall, but there are also some key differences. Most noticeably, category buyers are not as concentrated among women as other meat alternative categories. A slight majority of plant-based fish/seafood buyers (56%) are women, but this represents the lowest proportion of female purchasers for any plant-based food category. 

Buyers of plant-based fish/seafood are also more likely to be Black, Asian, or Latinx when compared to plant-based buyers generally. While 79% of all plant-based buyers identify as white, 71% of plant-based fish/seafood buyers say the same. On the other hand, nearly a third (31%) of plant-based fish/seafood buyers identify as Asian, Black, or Latinx, while just 22% of all plant-based buyers identify as one of these groups. 

The fish/seafood buyers also skew a bit younger, with an average age of 37 compared to 39 for plant-based buyers overall. Two-thirds (67%) of plant-based seafood buyers are Millennials or Generation Z, versus 60% for plant-based buyers in general. The geographical distribution of plant-based fish/seafood is slightly more concentrated in the Northeast and West. Following are a few more data points from the Cultivate Insights report

Among Plant-Based Fish/Seafood Buyers, How Many…PercentIndex
Shop at specialty/gourmet stores? 18%158
Shop at natural foods stores? 55%131
Are Millennials (Gen Y)? 57%107
Are located in the West? 28% 107
Are willing to pay a premium for plant-based foods?91%104
Have household incomes above $60k?42%98
Are white?71%91
Are women? 56%90
Are Generation X? 23%85

Proportion of plant-based fish/seafood buyers in the past three months that fall into each category. Index value is relative to all plant-based food buyers.

Swimming with the Current

Although plant-based fish/seafood is the least frequently purchased plant-based meat, it also may be the fastest-growing. The Cultivate Insights report includes differences between actual purchases over the previous three months and intended purchases over the next three months, for each plant-based food category. Intended plant-based purchases for fish/seafood are 36% higher than actual purchases, compared to “growth rates” of 9% for plant-based beef and about 20% for plant-based chicken and pork. 

Additionally, more people in all age and gender groups covered in the Cultivate Insights report intend to buy plant-based fish/seafood than actually purchased it in the past three months. Older women were least likely to have bought this category, and men showed the most growth between actual and intended purchases. Even baby boomer men showed higher purchase intent for the plant-based fish/seafood category. 

Plant-Based Fish/Seafood Purchases by Gender-Age Group

Chart for proportion of consumers, by age-gender group, for actual and intended plant-based seafood purchasing.
Proportion of consumers in each age group that purchased plant-based fish/seafood in the past three months and intend to purchase it in the next three months.

There is no shortage of exciting business opportunities in the burgeoning plant-based food space (and the forthcoming cultivated protein space). With a small market presence, high growth potential, and relatively few competitors, fish and seafood alternatives arguably represent one of the best opportunities. According to the Good Food Institute, plant-based seafood sales account for just 1% of all plant-based meat sales.

To take full advantage of the opportunity in plant-based fish/seafood and other categories, companies must have reliable consumer insights. If you need detailed consumer profiles including purchase behavior and intent for all major plant-based food segments, check out the exclusive and cost-effective Cultivate Insights report. If you need something customized to your market or target customers, contact us for a free consultation to see how we can help.

Header photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

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