Food & Drink

Gathered Foods Reels In New Investment To Grow Plant-Based Seafood Line

Plant-based seafood brand Good Catch’s parent, Gathered Foods, has raised $26.35 million in a new funding round that will go toward developing new products,  expanding the brand’s presence in existing global markets and entering new ones, CEO Christine Mei said.

The new funding round, led by Louis Dreyfus Company, brings the total raised by the company since its inception to more than $70 million, with earlier rounds going toward developing the brand’s six-product line. Good Catch, developed by partners Chris Kerr and sibling chefs Chad and Derek Sarno, launched its first plant-based tuna products a few years ago, and last year it debuted a frozen line of vegan crab cakes, fish cakes and fish burgers.

Mei, a CPG industry veteran with 30 years experience and a resume that includes stints at Coca-Cola and Procter & Gamble, took the CEO reins from Kerr last July, in the midst of the global pandemic.  

“I was hired through Zoom — I didn’t meet Chris [in person] for three months,” Mei says with a laugh. “I have still not met the entire leadership team, but we’ve been in the same virtual rooms, we’ve been in each others’ homes, and it has engaged us to connect in very concentrated ways. Virtual situations do work, but you have to make them work.”

The new role attracted Mei, who saw it as the right next step after moving back to the U.S. after several years spent growing her career in Asia, most recently in Shanghai, she says. 

Her interest in plant-based foods had been growing for several years and she enjoyed the startup culture while working with an Austin, Texas-based accelerator, after returning to the U.S. to be closer to family. That experience also brought home the realization that, while a leader, she’s not cut out to be a founder. 

“My strength is to partner with a passionate founder to scale,” she says. “I met with Chris, who was one of the most visionary and committed founders I’ve met. When he described why he and Chad and Derek Sarno founded the company, it checked all the boxes for me.”

Like other high-profile plant-based brands, Good Catch is seeing its growth accelerate as more consumers opt to try alternatives to traditional animal products.

U.S. retail sales of plant-based foods grew 27% last year, compared to 15% for the entire U.S. food market, according to data released this week by the Plant Based Foods Association and the Good Food Institute. Sales of plant-based meat, a category that includes plant-based seafood alternatives, soared 45% in 2020 over the previous year and it’s second only to plant-based milks by total sales. 

Plant-based seafood isn’t as ubiquitous yet as plant-based beef and chicken options, but the category is growing with new products and startups like New Wave Foods, which recently debuted its plant-based shrimp in foodservice channels.

Sustainable seafood has become a hot-button issue of late, fueled most recently by the launch of the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy, which highlights threats to the world’s oceans from overfishing and plastic pollution from the fishing industry as well as from consumer products.

“It’s a very thought-provoking film,” Mei says. “As a plant-based food company, we’ve created ourselves to provide delicious and sustainable products.”

Those products are likely to be increasingly appealing to consumers concerned about the topics raised in the film, she says. 

“If we really believed there could be such a thing as sustainable animal-based seafood, we probably wouldn’t be here. I think that movie is going to be great for provoking conversation and dialogue. There’s an important dialogue to be had. Let consumers make their choice. We want to be part of the solution.”

Before last year, the brand had a plan to focus more on foodservice channels than retail, but that flipped when the pandemic largely shut off foodservice channels and drove consumers to stock up for home cooking.

It’s starting to shift back, Mei said, and the brand has signed some restaurant partners recently, including Veggie Grill that now offers the Good Catch Tuna Melt on the menu at all 37 restaurants. More recently, Bareburger and Good Catch teamed up to offer the Plant-Based Classic Fish Burger, and the product is also featured in a prepared tuna salad at Whole Foods Market. 

Growing in foodservice channels with innovative products tailored to the needs of restaurants and others in the industry will be another focus for the new funding. 

“We would like to see foodservice reignited in 2021,” Mei said.

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