How Pescavore aims to hook jerky lovers with a seafood alternative

Pescavore knows that most jerky eaters wouldn’t typically think of having seafood in their meat snack, but he’s willing to make his point. Its ahi tuna jerky, which contains at least 12 grams of protein and is rich in vitamins, minerals and omega-3s, also contains less salt and sugar than conventional jerky, according to the company. Gaining fan approval for the traditional beef-based snack was a key goal.

“Men who aren’t intimidated by the product at all, who are already jerky eaters, have bitten into it like, ‘Wow, this is really good. I didn’t expect it to be this good’ , according to Matt Owens, CEO of Pescavore.

The brand was co-founded by Matt and his wife, Clarice Owens, who live on the central coast of California. Prior to entering commercial feed, Matt Owens worked on creating sustainable aquaculture sources with the Peace Corps in Zambia, while Clarice Owens worked as an engineer on wind turbines and sustainable technologies. They operate Pescavore under Healthy Oceans Seafood Co., of which Clarice Owens is the Chief Technology Officer.

The two men were inspired by the product during a business trip to the Marshall Islands, which lie between Hawaii and Australia, near one of the largest tuna supply points. Matt and Clarice Owens said they live off the jerky of jerky which is a popular snack there.

“Local fishing families dry the marlin and sell it to the public at a tiny hotel for extra income,” said Clarice Owens.

After the trip, they wondered why there was no fish jerky on the market in the United States.

“Our a-ha moment was: how do we make seafood snackable, and also how do we do it in an environmentally friendly way?” said Clarice Owens.

The couple found that there are certain limits for the types of fish that can be made into jerky. For example, they originally planned to use marlin. But fish is often high in mercury and cannot be sold in the continental United States The company chose yellowfin tuna because it was more suitable for processing into jerky and is fished with minimal impact on the ecosystem, depending on the company.

The Owens have also discovered that it is difficult to store fish jerky for at least a year. To solve this problem, Pescavore has developed proprietary technology and a small-batch natural wood-smoking technique to maintain fish flavor, texture, protein and nutrients, the brand said.

“The real benefit of Pescavore is that we’ve solved a lot of these issues by making the fish delicious, having a really good macronutrient profile and also being stable for 18 months,” says Clarice Owens.

The Owens acquired a processing plant in Santa Cruz, Calif., to make jerky from locally sourced tuna, which the brand said was a top priority and took years to solidify.

Optional legend

Courtesy of Pescavore

Go with a seafood snack start-up

After a few years of R&D, Pescavore received supported by Chobani’s Incubator program in 2020. As a startup looking to spin its wheels, the program’s support has helped Pescavore address a range of issues such as food safety, media strategy and developing contracts with seafood packers, according to Clarice Owens.

“What’s really unique about the incubator is that it’s not so much a resource manual. They really open up all the Chobani staff if you have a problem,” she said. “All of our engagement has been digital because of COVID, but it’s just amazing because as a young brand you’re usually out in the desert trying to figure these things out on your own.”

Pescavor first launched its Ahi Tuna Jerky Strips in 2018. The snack comes from cut whole tuna and contains 15 grams of protein per package. The jerky is currently available in three flavors: Caribbean Jerk, Island Teriyaki and Smoke Poke, and sold at retailers nationwide. This includes 7-Eleven, which tested the product for the first time in 2020 as part of its Sips & Snacks initiative.

Sustainability is a key marketing element of many new products, but with the two co-founders of Pescavore having experience in the field, they consider their knowledge to be important in avoiding greenwashing. Matt Owens is also director of sustainability for the Tri Marine Group, one of the world’s largest tuna suppliers.

The seafood industry has been criticized by environmental groups for overfishing and mistreating the ocean. Pescavore does not source from fisheries that use fish aggregating devices, which Matt Owens says can also catch unintended fish species. All Pescavore tuna comes from Cal Marine Fish Co.but it is open to other sources in the future.

Pescavore is also in the process of obtaining certification from the Marine Stewardship Councila non-profit organization that certifies seafood products for sustainable sourcing.

“Our tuna is very selectively harvested,” said Matt Owens.

“Our a-ha moment was: how do we make seafood snackable, and also how do we do it in an environmentally friendly way?”

Clarice Owen

Chief Technology Officer, Pescavore

Pescavore wants to reach two main audiences: seafood lovers who want to try something practical and different, and younger, health-conscious consumers. These consumers also care about the environment in which their products were made, the brand said. A QR code on the back of the dried Pescavore packaging displays information about where does tuna come fromincluding videos with fishermen and information on issues facing the seafood industry.

“Millennials and Gen Z is a segment that really cares about authenticity and transparency,” said Clarice Owens. “So we have the will to show our ships, to introduce you to our captains.”

As Pescavore grows, it doesn’t stop at tuna jerky. It has already expanded its initial product line with TidBits, tuna jerky bites that launched in 2019. The company said it plans to launch its next seafood snack in late summer. At its Santa Cruz plant, the company tests new products with a variety of fish species, including salmon, groundfish and petral sole. The Owens said their ties to seafood producers around the world, such as the Tri Marine Group, and a partnership with Peter Pan Seafoods, position them well to scale and launch new products in the near future.

“Our facility is the first of its kind and will have the capacity to incubate exciting new products over the longer term,” said Clarice Owens.

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