Welcome to our new Member: BettaF!sh. Known for their seaweed TU-NAH
Please welcome our newest North Sea Farmer: BettaF!sh. BettaF!sh is a company based in Germany that produces delicious tuna from seaweed. To save the fish in the ocean and get people used to eating seaweed. They were also winners of this summer's Seaweed Innovation Challenge, organised by North Sea Famers and Brave New Food.
Can you tell us something about BettaFish in general?
‘We started 4.5 years ago. Jacob, my co-founder, and I come from different backgrounds. He from resource management having traveled the world to meet seaweed pioneers and I from food already researched on the future of food and worked in food start-ups in the past.
Fourteen years ago I discovered that I was intolerant to sugar and wheat, and when I went to the supermarket and started reading the labels, I realised that our whole food system is completely messed up. Everything is based on corn, sugar, wheat and soy.
I started writing a blog and a cookbook about sugar and wheat free eating. Eventually, my hobby turned into a job. When I focused on the topic of food, I quickly discovered the potential of seaweed. When I met Jacob who also was similarly fascinated by this water plant, we got into the kitchen together and made our very first seaweed salads.
We thought it was terrible, but it won us an award and a grant. So we were able to continue with what we had started. Our product initially reached a niche of organic shoppers who were looking for healthier food.
And we thought: If we really want to kick this up a notch, we need to make products that use more seaweed on a larger scale. And we said: why not replace an animal of the sea with a plant of the sea? Everybody was trying to get rid of the seaweed taste. It took another 1.5 years before we launched seaweed-based tuna.’
What are your most interesting developments at the moment?
‘The TU-NAH launch was the showcase that we can replace fish with a seaweed-based product. We are now working on many new fish species. Ultimately, we want to expand the range of fish species, soon launching our second fish species, a plant-based salmon.
Simultaneously, we want to go back to seaweed as an ingredient. We want to apply for some research grants to look at the development of seaweed as an ingredient so that we can build our own flavour toolkit. This will allow us to develop whatever we want in the future.
So if someone says, 'I want lobster with seaweed,' we can make that.’
Why did you choose seaweed as your basic ingredient?
‘Seaweed is a zero-input-crop requiring no fresh water, soil, pesticides or fertilizers to grow. Meanwhile, cultivating regenerative seaweed can increase the biodiversity in the waters. Moreover, there are +1000 species of seaweed out there that each have a different flavor and nutrition profile we can use to make new foods.
Cultivating seaweed also offers fishing communities a sustainable alternative to fishery. Fishermen often possess the knowledge and logistics to easily switch from fishery to seaweed cultivation without needing to leave the beloved ocean.’
How do you see the future of seaweed in food?
‘I think we will eventually buy frozen seaweed and use it as spinach, but first we have to put it in another product to get people to eat it. So now we have TU-NAH sandwiches, TU-NAH spread, TU-NAH salad, TU-NAH cans.
If you look at other geographies, it might be faster than in Europe. The approach in the UK and the Netherlands is much faster than in Germany or other countries.’
What's your ambition with BettaFish?
‘We want to replace products in our kitchens with seaweed. Now we are doing that with TU-NAH in the supermarket, but eventually we want to have a bigger impact by focusing on white label and B2B.
It doesn't have to be the BettaFish brand, we are good at looking at seaweed and turning it into something people want to eat. We want to spend some time on the research part for a couple of years, commercialize the product, launch it into different channels. Our newest canned TU-NAH will allow us to enter new channels, new markets.’
What can other North Sea Farmers contact you about?
‘We want to do some research into the different tastes of different types of seaweed. We want to take on some extra people in the team, so we have some job opportunities. Mostly in operations, supply chain and product development. And we are looking for partners who are processing seaweed in different ways, not just drying, freezing, quick drying of seaweed.’
What can you do for other members?
‘We are always happy to share our insights from the markets. We have a good overview of competitions that have been very helpful in our journey to raise awareness and financial support.’
What is your biggest challenge?
‘Our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity: We're doing well, but we haven't sold as much as we wanted to this year. So how can we really push this industry? How can we develop it with the characteristics of different species. Everything takes a long time, how can we speed it up? At the same time we have a running business and we have the products on the market. So we have to focus on that.’