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Gathered Foods CEO on market opportunities for plant-based seafood

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Chris Kerr, Gathered Foods CEO & Co-Founder, joins The Final Round to discuss release of their new line frozen plant-based seafood and trends emerging in the plant-based protein market.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Welcome back to "The Final Round." I want to bring in our next guest. We have Chris Kerr, he's the CEO of Good Catch-- it's the maker of frozen entrees and appetizers, including plant-based tuna along with other types of fish. And, Chris, I know it's been a very busy couple of months for your company. You started the year with a new financing round. This week, you're launching a line of products.

But I just want to first start with your product and just about what differentiates it from the other offerings out there, because I know a lot of our viewers are probably asking themselves, what exactly plant-based fish is. So fill us in exactly on what you're offering here.

CHRIS KERR: Well, mostly we focus on proteins. And then we take culinary arts and make them into dishes that people want to be delighted with, they want to consume. So ultimately, we work on focusing solely originally on texture and then onward into taste. And we spend about a year in developing the texture of this protein. From there, we work our way up into the applications having to do with seafood.

Seafood is a very broad category. We don't refer to all land animals as one category, and yet seafood covers quite a swath of living beings. We focused on tuna originally. And so this is-- ultimately, it's a platform play. How do we make a really good protein that can then be utilized in different seafood forms by applying culinary arts, a little bit of food science, and a little bit in nutrition.

SEANA SMITH: And, Chris, what has demand been like for your product over the last couple of months? Because we've been talking about the fact that, obviously, people can't go out to restaurants, or they're choosing not to go out to restaurants in states where they do have outdoor dining opened. Instead, they're cooking at home. So have you seen an uptick just in terms of demand for your products?

CHRIS KERR: Well, there was a run on anything ambient. That was across the board. And so needless to say, our ambient line did well during the better part of March and into April. What has happened is most, certainly fresh seafood-- about 85% of it is consumed inside restaurants. So that sector really took a beating. That being said, we go after share of stomach. Human beings still eat the same amount of food, they just do it in a different way.

In the case of a good catch, we have three different channels that we're approaching. We've got food service. We've got retail. And then we've got commercial ingredient. The retail channel is still very, very strong. And what we're trying to do is bolster that with our offerings directly into the frozen channel, which is where people expect to find good, ready to eat culinary offerings. In this case, it's a heat and serve product. It doesn't take any fancy cheffery in order to bring it-- to put it into your mouth. So we're really excited that we have something that's so easy for users to try during this time.

AKIKO FUJITA: Chris, picking up on Seana's point, you know, it seems like there has been a lot of focus over the last few months on the issue of sustainability. Obviously, there's concerns with how food is distributed because everything's been disrupted. But also if you look at the meat processing plants, for example, just how safe it is, does that strengthen the case for plant-based food, do you think?

CHRIS KERR: Well, unfortunately, a large part of our economy relies on what we call the exploitation of desperation. And so if you have somebody who needs a job, needs to pay their rent, they're going to go to work even in environments that are really unsafe. And so slaughterhouses, they're just unsafe by design. They're not a particularly good place to work when you have something like a virus floating around-- or any other pathogen, for that matter.

In the world of plant-based food, the interaction between the food and the inputs and what ends up on your plate is very minimal. It's very streamlined. There's not a lot of logistics between the two. So when we look at this as a food source, it's quite an efficient and quite safe way of consuming really good proteins.

And I actually think, if you want to look at the kind of humanitarian side of it, if we're in trouble, this is a good place to turn your attention.

RICK NEWMAN: Hey, Chris, Rick Newman here. You've used this phrase, culinary arts, to describe the method-- the sort of black magic I guess you use to get this to taste like seafood. How do you do-- how do you do that? How do you infuse an oceanic flavor to fish? And how far can you go? Can you do-- at some point in the future, could you do clams and oysters on the half shell?

CHRIS KERR: Half shell part might be a little bit tough, but we can undoubtedly do the rest. I mean, mostly what we were focusing on originally-- when we eat food, we focus on bite first. A little bit of smell, a whole lot of bite, and then you get into the flavor. And so ultimately, the food science is what leads to the bite size. What did it feel like whiten your teeth break through it?

The flavor's derived by, in our case, algal oils-- things that come from the ocean, the same flavor that fish get their flavor from. So we're just using that same process. We're just applying it to plants. Ultimately, you still have work to do. You can't just take a base protein, jam it together, and expect people to eat it. There's lots of things-- even A1 Steak Sauce is a plant-based offering on top of steak.

We add lots of things to proteins to make them delectable. And ultimately, we use the chefs in our group to help create that culinary-- that curated culinary experience. That's our goal.

RICK NEWMAN: What is the plant? Is it soy?

CHRIS KERR: We have a little bit of soy. It's actually six legumes. So we've got navy bean in there, lentil, chickpea, soy, farva, and then we have algal oil in there for a little bit of flavoring. And then, of course, we've got all sorts of other things like vegetables and things that are pretty natural that just, you know, we use in order to make a crab cake, just like you would do at home.

AKIKO FUJITA: Chris, Rick's question just reminded me of the last conversation we had, because I remember you said that fish is a little easier, but something like shrimp is a really high bar-- to be able to do a plant-based shrimp. So now you've got a number of products out there, I mean, what's the next thing you're looking to to be able to replicate?


AKIKO FUJITA: If that's the right word.

CHRIS KERR: Yeah, I mean, shrimp is tough. And quite frankly, all shellfish are. And you think about the form-- I mean, we're not going to make a lobster, we're going to make a lobster roll. So you're going to be able to take this kind of basic platform and apply different flavorings in order to make that happen.

In our case, we want foods that are familiar, clean, and aren't hidden. And so in these products we're just launching now, you'll see there's no breading on there. These products can stand alone without any coating on the outside, assuring you that the base product is good. You can bread cardboard and it's going to be delicious.

The fact is we need to be able to bring really good ingredients inside of that that make for a good culinary experience. From there, you can lighten the protein flakes to make a whitefish. So if you wanted a battered whitefish for fish and chips in the UK, we could do something like that. You can also turn the flavor towards something like salmon.

And in our world, we eat between 200 and 300 different types of sea creatures. There are a lot of avenues we can go. And then, of course, each one of those beings creates different types of offerings. And so in the case of tuna fish, you might have five or six different ways of applying it. Let's just say it's a broad ocean out there, and we're able to participate in all sides of it.

SEANA SMITH: I like that. Chris, real quick-- in terms of-- we just talked about what you could do next product wise, but just in terms of scaling your business, because I know earlier in the year you expanded your distribution footprint. You're now in the UK selling plant-based tuna. What are your plans to further scale your business internationally?

CHRIS KERR: Well, when we watche companies like Beyond Meat launching, you know, when you end up with a really good product, your first big problem is not enough production capacity. We raised this last tranche of money really to focus on production. We did not want any production constraint. It was a big gamble, but we were looking at the world around us and saying, look, the adoption of plant-based proteins is growing. It's growing. It's growing.

And by the time it takes to build a plant, which is about 18 months, you're already behind the cycle. And so what we did was we really invested in that production output. Then from there, we can export those proteins and have them localized to local market. We adopt food by form, function, and taste, flavor, and ultimately, we want those to be localized. And so our plan is to grow by region outside of the United States to other places where they're also eating seafood.

SEANA SMITH: Chris, I have to admit, when I first heard about it, I was a little bit skeptical. But you did a great job selling it, so I'm going to have to try it soon. Chris Kerr, CEO of Good Catch, always great to have you on the show. Thanks so much for taking the time today.

CHRIS KERR: Thank you guys.