Interview with Tom Johansson from Hooked Seafood
Zoom in on the challenges the seafood industry currently faces and learn how the Swedish food tech start-up Hooked is working to transform the market with sustainable, plant-based solutions.
“Like seafood, but harmless”. Hooked is a Stockholm-based start-up developing vegan seafood alternatives as a response to the rapidly rising global demand for seafood. The innovative team plans to bring its two products to the market, plant-based shredded tuna and plant-based shredded salmon, later this year. Hooked seafood promises the same health benefits as traditional seafood sans the toxic practices and chemicals and negative environmental impact. “Taste is king. Nutrition is queen.”
About Tom Johansson
In 2019, Tom Johansson teamed up with Emil Wasteson and founded Hooked Seafood AB. He previously also founded two other companies, Oliver Wyatt Design and GNDRS Apparel. Tom currently works as a Nordic Market Strategy & Planning Manager for Procter and Gamble.
You founded Hooked because you are passionate about reducing food waste and increasing the consumption of plant-based foods. Tell us more!
To change the way we consume foods today is one of the biggest challenges for us and the planet. And seafood is no exception. There has been a high increase in the historic numbers of demand for seafood products, and it’s estimated that it will continue to grow another 30% in the next ten years. This is highly concerning because, if you look at this number—combined with the fact that the seafood industry is very fragile and fish farms are collapsing, and they’re overfishing wild harvests—the planet can’t really take any more consumption. We are also seeing increasing numbers of toxins in our seafood that are affecting our health. The levels of antibiotics, micro-plastics and mercury just keep going up in our seafood. So it’s also a question of human health: Do we really want to continue to consume seafood that contains these kinds of things?
With our Hooked products, we can meet this high and increasing demand with an alternative that is urgently needed. One which also contains all the positive health benefits of conventional seafood. One which, at the same time, is not harming our oceans and not harming our marine life. That is why we created Hooked.
What is your vision for a harmless food system?
Hooked’s mission is to create seafood that is just like seafood when it comes to taste and nutrition, but it doesn’t harm the planet. It lives in harmony with the planet and its animals. This vision is the same for most plant-based and cell-based companies. We want to meet the high consumption that the world is requiring with a sustainable alternative. And this is the interesting part because we are just in the beginning phase of this era. I think we will see a massive shift in the upcoming years because this is food science. We’ll be able to iterate the products that we create over the years to become tastier, more nutritious, and even cheaper than the current products in the conventional seafood and meat industry could ever provide. So it’s going to be very interesting to see how we will shift the way we consume foods and which products the meat and seafood industry will be able to provide in the future.
What are the biggest challenges the seafood industry currently faces? And how will plant-based alternatives help the industry overcome these?
The biggest challenge for the seafood industry is simply the rapidly increasing demand for seafood products. This is being driven by a larger population as well as an increase in average salaries across the globe. And it comes down to a very simple formula. You want to produce as much as possible to meet this increasing demand, and you want to do it as cost-efficiently as possible to make it profitable.
In wild harvest, you have overfishing and the use of illegal tools. In fish farms you want to produce as much as possible, in a small area, as fast as possible which easily gets polluted—the welfare of these animals becomes really bad, so you use antibiotics and anti-solvents to cleanse these circumstances. And these are two toxins that are not good for the planet. If you look closer at the seafood and meat industry, you’ll also see a very insufficient supply chain. We feed these animals for a full lifetime before you take them out, eat them, and consume them. When it comes to plant-based products, however, we go directly to the plants and create plant-based meat alternatives. We create an alternative to seafood in a much more efficient way without throwing away tons of plants and feed. We create the product directly, therefore, making it a much more sustainable alternative to meet this rapidly increasing demand for seafood products which is just going to continue to increase despite the fragile state that we’re in today. That is why Hooked’s products are a lot more sustainable than conventional seafood.
This year, you plan to enter the market with vegan shredded salmon and shredded tuna. What can consumers expect from these products? What ingredients do they contain? What applications can they be used for?
Our first two products are a shredded tuna alternative and a shredded salmon alternative. These can be used in a wide variety of dishes like sandwiches, wraps, burritos, salads, poke bowls, sushi, pasta, pizza, you name it. The tuna that is finalised is based on a soy isolate, non-GMO, of course. And the salmon is still under development, but we’re looking into alternative sources of proteins as well. What you can expect from this is that they have high nutritional values in terms of protein and also taste and have a similar texture to conventional seafood. Our motto is, “Taste is king. Nutrition is queen.” because taste is the most important thing and we don’t want to compromise deceitful experience to save the planet and the oceans.
How do you expect the food industry will evolve over the next decade? And how do you hope to contribute to this evolution with Hooked?
The food system will face many major changes in the upcoming years—especially when it comes to sustainable and innovative ways to consume food. We have seen this change primarily in the dairy industry, where milk that has been seen as a very healthy, protein-rich alternative to water has actually now been disrupted by plant-based companies challenging this norm and turning consumers around. Now the plant-based alternatives that use oats, almonds, peas, etc. have a proper share of the dairy category. We think this is going to happen in the meat and seafood category as well.
Meat has come very far. The interesting thing in the plant-based and cell-based community is that you can actually optimise the products to human experiences. So in food science, we can iterate them and make the product better and better and better for each year until we have a product that is now both tastier, more nutritious, and cheaper than products the conventional meat, seafood and dairy industries could ever provide. That is very interesting because that’s when we’re going to see the big shift. The good thing is that the scene right now, in terms of consumers and market, is really equipped for this change as well because today consumers are demanding a lot more transparency from these big, established companies than they have before. And that, combined with the increasing sustainability awareness among consumers, is really setting a perfect scene for start-ups to disrupt and challenge norms and transform the status quo to penetrate the category and drive a change in consumer behaviour. So what I think we will witness in the upcoming decade is actually a massive change in the consumption of meat, seafood, and dairy products.