Photo/Illutration NH Foods Ltd.’s imitation popcorn shrimp product is scheduled for release in April. (Tomohiko Kaneko)

Japanese food companies have added artificial marine products to their imitation-meat lineups to counter the expected global protein shortage caused by the expanding world population.

Soybeans, peas and other plant-based ingredients that can replicate the flavor and texture of real meat and fish are seen as a potential solution to the growing crisis.

NH Foods Ltd. on March 1 released its fishless fish fry product consisting mainly of soybeans. It contains 104 grams of imitation fish pieces and sells for 345 yen ($2.50), including tax.

Seaweed-derived ingredients re-create the flavor and fluffy texture of white-meat fish.

The company said it took about one year to develop the product.

NH Foods also plans to introduce a plant-based imitation popcorn shrimp product for professional chefs in April.

The company started its NatuMeat line of plant-derived protein products in 2020, offering substitutes for chicken nuggets, deep-fried chicken, ham cutlets and other meat dishes.

The fake fish fry is the company’s first alternative fish product.

“We want to expand the category of soy meat,” said Masayuki Osada, chief of the marketing promotion division.

Fuji Oil Co. developed plant-based “uni” for professional chefs, using soy milk cream as a base ingredient to replicate the flavor and texture of sea urchin.

Next Meats Co. came up with Next Tuna, a soy-based tuna alternative, while Azuma Foods Co. began its Marude Sakana (tastes just like fish) series. The substitutes for salmon, tuna and squid sashimi consists mainly of konjac powder.

Itoham Foods Inc. sells soy meat products under its Marude Oniku! (tastes just like meat!) series while Otsuka Foods Co. uses its Zero Meat line.

The United Nations has estimated that the world’s population will reach 8.5 billion in 2030 and 9.7 billion in 2050, resulting in a further overexploitation of fishery resources.

The percentage of overexploited fisheries increased from 10 percent in 1974 to 34 percent in 2017, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

Beef, pork, chicken and other livestock meats will be in short supply by 2030, creating a protein crisis, according to predictions.

Another concern is that methane gas emitted by cattle will further accelerate global warming, and the massive use of livestock feed and water on farms will devastate the environment.

An estimated 11 kilograms of grain are required to produce 1 kg of beef.

In many cases, alternative fish and meat products cost the same as or more than their authentic counterparts.

However, the imitation products have their own advantages, such as being low in calories and fat and high in fiber.

An online survey by research company MyVoice Communications Inc., covering about 10,000 people late last year, found that nearly 40 percent of respondents said they have eaten plant-based meats.

When asked why alternative meats are appealing, the largest group, or 39.9 percent of respondents, cited “healthy.”

According to an estimate by Yano Research Institute Ltd., the global shipment value of alternative proteins, including cultivated meat and fish, as well as food made of insects, was worth 486.1 billion yen in 2021.

The figure is expected to grow to 3.311 trillion yen in 2030.