Vancouver company hooking sushi restaurants with plant-based fish

Jul 11 2019, 10:46 pm

Could faux fish be the new “Catch of the day?”

That’s the goal of a Vancouver-based food supply company that developed quinoa specifically for the sushi industry.

Top Tier Foods Inc. President Blair Bullus is casting a net into the super hot plant-based protein pool with a raw tuna alternative aimed at catching the attention of vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters alike.

Bullus has teamed up with the company Ocean Hugger Foods to create vegan sushi using Top Tier’s Sushi Quinoa and Ocean Hugger Food’s plant-based raw tuna, called Ahimi.

Photo credit: Michelle Morton / Daily hive

This move comes as a wave of companies join the plant-based movement.

Recently, Tim Hortons announced its new Beyond Meat breakfast items, following A&W Beyond Meat sandwiches, and Beyond Meat burgers making their way to grocery stores across the country.

Just this year, the Federal Government released the new Food Guide which put a greater emphasis on plant-based proteins and whole grains.

If you’re thinking the plant-based raw tuna alternative may sound a little fishy, lets dive into what it’s made of first.

Photo credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

On its website, Ocean Hugger Foods said Ahimi is made of five ingredients: tomatoes, soy sauce, sugar, water and sesame oil.

Ahimi comes packaged frozen, so first you have to thaw it, drain it, let it dry, and then voila — it’s ready to serve.

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

In an interview with Daily Hive , Bullus, who is a flexitarian, said he found that when Sushi Quinoa was developed, there was a big market of vegetarians and vegans looking to add more protein into their diets. Then Top Tier then partnered with other Ocean Hugger Foods to create such products.

“It is trending where people are just looking for those alternatives to meat, and in Canada the numbers suggest huge growth in these areas, so when one per cent of people in 2013 identified as vegans, now six per cent — so that’s a 600% increase just in that short period of time,” Bullus said.

“The bulk of people are kind of in the middle where they may be reducing their meat, or they’re definitely reducing their meat consumption, and they’re looking for options that are either plant-based where you’re just kind of just trying to get more nutrients from the plants that we already eat, or we’re just looking for alternatives to those meat products and we’re looking for things like Ahimi, or there’s, you know, Beyond Meat,” he said.

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Now getting to the meat of the plant-based fish: “Tastes like tuna,” Bullus said: “If you bite into it, you’ll get the very same sensation of biting into a raw piece of ahi tuna.”

Bullus said he’d understand if there’s scepticism, “I’m not somebody that would be easily swayed in terms of something that is new and different, but once you have it, the only thing that you can kind of say is ‘go and try it’ and there’ll be, there will be lots of  products that have tried to do something and don’t quite work… we really like Ocean Hugger Foods because they have done something that we feel like they nailed.”

And Bullus said often when they sample the products to consumers, the response is “amazing,” and “every time we sample this product with them, we have an incredible response and so it’s something that we get an actual feedback from, it’s not just my opinion — it’s the opinion of hundreds and thousands of people that we’ve actually sampled this to already and so we know that the feedback is great.”

As for price point, Bullus said plant-based raw tuna and real fish evens out to about the same, “you’re not going to be paying more.”

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Bullus said the goal now is to get people to think differently about sushi, “and think that sushi doesn’t necessarily have to be a white rice and a piece of fish, we can make a really healthy, really great tasting piece of sushi using alternatives like quinoa and meat alternatives.”

“You don’t have to adjust what you eat, you can just kind of adjust what it is made out of,” Bullus said.

“We’re looking to see if we can help the planet a little bit, but also help people with their diets.  We know that a plant-rich diet better than a meat-heavy diet now and so this is something that we are looking to capitalize on and really you can see that momentum with something like the Beyond Meat burger at A&W and so if we can become the ‘Beyond Meat version for sushi’ we would love that,” he said.

Bullus said Ahimi is served like a ‘raw tuna,’ but there are other fish-alternative options out there, such as smoked salmon made out of carrot and canned tuna-alternative made out of chickpeas, that he’s seen.

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Photo Credit: Michelle Morton / Daily Hive

Bullus said the Sushi Quinoa-Ahimi products have been launched nationally and are available at independent restaurants from coast to coast. It’s also just partnered with the Quebec restaurant chain Yuzu sushi, which has 110 locations.

Now, Bullus said they’re talking to almost every major chain about bringing in the raw tuna fish alternatives, “and so everybody is kind of getting onboard, Yuzu Sushi is now part of MTY Group, which is the largest restaurant group in Canada, they own a whole bunch of the restaurant chains and so just being affiliated with them is great but we’re also talking to most of the big sushi chains about doing different sort of concepts for them.”

While the Sushi Quinoa-Ahimi products are only available in restaurants, Bullus said the goal now is to reach other restaurants and chains across the world, including the United States and Europe.

With files from Hanna McLean