Finnish startup Hailia unlocks the potential of fish industry sidestreams

Finnish company Hailia turns discarded fish into new food products.
Finnish startup Hailia unlocks the potential of fish industry sidestreams

Currently, in sustainability tech, there's a strong interest in using sidestreams — giving industrial or manufacturing materials that ordinarily discarded a second life by turning them into end-products such as oilconcrete, and plant-based leather

But there are also a number of foodtech startups dedicated to giving food waste a second life. One is Finnish company Hailia which turns discarded fish into new commercial food products.

I spoke to co-founder and managing director Michaela Lindström to learn more.

She explained: 

"It's said that we will double our seafood consumption by 2050. We already have the amounts of fish needed for 2050. We need to use it for food, not throw it away."

The fish industry commonly only uses the fillet of the fish – everything else, including skin, bones and head is thrown away or sold as low-value products. 

For example, 2021 research revealed that whilst approximately 77 million kilos of herring were fished for commercial purposes in Finland, only four percent of this ended up on Finnish plates.

And, while fish sidestreams are commercially utilised as fertilisers, animal and fish feeds, and biofuels, they are less often used in food manufacturing. 

Lindström shared: 

"We realised that as we live in Finland, we have always thought about the Baltic Sea. 

Baltic herring is the most important fish caught in Finland. But only a tiny amount of it ends up on the Finnish food table. And over 80 percent of the fish consumed in Finland — including tuna and salmon — is imported.

We aim to change the way that we are producing food. And we want to make the world a better place, and we want to unlock the potential that can see food.

In response, Lindström and Hailia co-founder and CTO Otto Kaukonen founded Hailia. 

Image: Hailia.

The company developed patent-pending food production technology, which turns raw materials from responsible fishing partners such as salmonid sidestreams and underutilised small pelagics, into mainstream food products such as chunks, bites, strips, and patties.

Hailia Small Fish Products made of Baltic herring — too small for the fillet to be removed in conventional use — were introduced to the Finnish food service market in early 2023. The company was awarded Seafood Innovation of the Year in Finland.

Lindstrom explained: 

"We take the whole fish, grind it, and recreate the structure. So, the products have bones, skin, and backbone. 

But then, when you taste it, it's really tender. So it's not gritty. It has the mouthfeel of cooked fish."

We worked really hard to get the right mouthfeel."

The small fish products are currently available for cooking professionals, i.e. restaurants and food service companies.

But eventually, they will also be found in grocery shops and supermarkets. The company is also working on a product using sidestream salmon. 

While the company has been successfully working from its factory in Finland, in terms of scale, it envisions licensing its tech to other companies. 

The company has Pre-Seed funding from Nordic Foodtech VC.

Growing interest in sidestream technologies in aquaculture and fisheries

This is just the beginning in terms of sidestream tech in seafood. Also working at valorising seafood sidestreams is WaSeaBi, an EU-funded project that aims to develop and test new concepts. 

Specifically, the project focuses on developing storage solutions, sorting technologies, and decision tools to secure an efficient, sustainable supply system for sidestreams from aquaculture, fisheries, and the aquatic processing industries. 

For example, it analyses the potential of mussel cooking water side streams using membrane concentration technology to extract valuable savoury compounds. This novel process has been tested and implemented at a pilot plant in Galicia, Spain. 

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