- Whole Foods will begin selling Ahimi, a new plant-based alternative to raw tuna, in select New York and Los Angeles stores beginning Nov. 1, according to a company release.
- Developed by Ocean Hugger Foods, Ahimi is made primarily from tomato and other select ingredients, and closely replicates the texture and flavor of ahi tuna. The new creation will be featured in two different rolls at Whole Foods: an Ahimi Nigiri and Roll Combo, and an Ahimi California Roll.
- “A tasty, vegan option for raw tuna is at the intersection of a few major trends, including the growing popularity of sushi, as well as the surge in plant-based diets and dishes,” Andy Sasser, global category manager at Whole Foods Market, said in the release. “We love when we can bring shoppers something delicious that’s never been done before, and Ahimi does just that.”
Supermarket sushi is hot right now, with sales of packaged varieties up $500 million over the past two years, according to data from Nielsen Fresh. It’s a clean, healthy product, but some lingering concerns — most notably over seafood sustainability and mercury content — are still on consumers’ minds.
Ahimi addresses those concerns. Whole Foods and Ocean Hugger Foods claim that the tomato-based product doesn't taste like a slab of tomato, but like a delicate piece of real fish, thanks to "umami-rich ingredients."
Like many retailers, both specialty and conventional, the grocer is trying to increase its availability of plant-based foods to meet growing consumer demand. According to data from HealthFocus International, 17% of U.S. consumers aged 15 to 70 currently claim to eat a predominately plant-based diet, while 60% report to be cutting back on meat-based products. Of those who are reducing their intake of animal-based proteins, 55% say the change is permanent, and 22% say they hope that it is.
Advancements in food science coupled with consumers’ desire to eat less meat means there’s an opportunity to reach millions —not just vegans and vegetarians — with plant-based alternatives. For Whole Foods, the new sushi selections could be yet another unique offering in this fast-growing category. In addition to its many vegan and vegetarian packaged products, the chain currently offers Beyond Meat burgers, and recently expanded its relationship with Next Level Burger, a plant-based burger chain on the West coast.
In the end, though, it all comes down to taste. The novelty factor will get many people trying Ahimi, but is the flavor good enough to keep them coming back? Considering many already see sushi as a healthy offering, Ahimi could ultimately be a tough sell for the mainstream audience Amazon and Whole Foods hope to bring in.