Different seafood startup Aqua Cultured Meals reels in $5.5M

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Enterprise capital traders targeted on meals tech are calling 2023 the yr when alternative seafood startups will make notable strides. In the meantime, traders count on 40 investments to be made on this sector this yr, up from 36 in 2022, in line with the Good Food Institute’s annual investor report.

Inside the previous yr, TechCrunch reported on quite a lot of these investments into startups producing alternate options to conventional seafood. For instance, one of many largest enterprise capital investments into different seafood in 2022 went into Wildtype, which raised $100 million in a Sequence B spherical for its cultured salmon product. In the meantime, New School Foods, Plantish, Bluu Seafood and the ISH Company additionally introduced funding.

As we speak, Chicago-based Aqua Cultured Foods is including itself to that checklist, asserting $5.5 million in seed funding to carry its pipeline of cultivated seafood alternate options to market.

Previous to beginning the corporate, co-founder and CEO Anne Palermo was in finance, however all the time had an curiosity in well being and wellness, so when the chance offered itself, she determined to return to highschool to find out about product improvement and science.

Aqua Cultured Foods alternative seafood dumpling

“Shrimp” dumpling. Picture Credit: Aqua Cultured Meals

Following that, she began her first well being snack firm that leveraged proprietary formulations of a excessive protein snack by means of the usage of protein isolates.

“It was actually in the course of the improvement of that product particularly that I acquired into the choice protein set scene as a result of it helped me to grasp that there are quite a lot of different proteins that aren’t extremely refined and don’t come from animals,” Palermo stated.

After studying concerning the microbial fermentation course of for making meals, Palermo determined to give attention to seafood, explaining that “it’s the most unstable provide chain of any animal protein,” because of issues just like the rise of the center class and the rise in demand due to inhabitants development in areas like China and Southeast Asia the place seafood is the No. 1 protein consumed per capita.

Nonetheless, overfishing and local weather change is depleting the provision of fish, and “after actually seeing and figuring out what’s happening, I knew that we needed to give you a very incredible product that would meet the look, texture, vitamin and business scale be capable of eat it and to make the utmost international impression,” Palermo stated.

Aqua Cultured Meals is creating whole-muscle lower seafood alternate options, together with calamari, shrimp, scallops and filets of tuna and whitefish. The corporate additionally produces minced “seafood” fillings for functions like dumplings, ravioli and sushi rolls.

“Simply texturally talking, there’s nothing prefer it,” Palermo stated. “It’s practically indistinguishable from tuna when it’s inside a maki roll. It’s practically indistinguishable from scallops. The merchandise are presently optimized to be uncooked, and the feel is simply so lovely and silky. It’s fairly an accomplishment.”

Palermo was mum on precisely how the expertise labored, however did say the corporate was utilizing proprietary mycoprotein (fungi) fermentation processes that don’t embody any animal inputs, genetic altering or modification. She additionally stated this course of yields meals with a cheaper price level to slender the hole in worth parity with conventional seafood.

“Aqua created novel processes and strategies of manufacturing based mostly on applied sciences and merchandise which have existed for 1000’s of years, so we don’t have the identical regulatory hurdles as different varieties of applied sciences have,” Palermo stated. “They’re already typically acknowledged as secure by the FDA. It’s a part of the rationale that we’re capable of have such an accelerated market and be capable of have so many actually incredible tastings.”

Aqua’s new funding was led by Stray Canine Capital and included H Ventures, Aztec Capital Administration and Amplifica Capital, which joined current traders Provide Change Capital, Large Concept Ventures, Hyde Park Angels, Aera VC, Kingfisher Capital and Swiss Pampa. The spherical additionally included a strategic funding from Asian meals producer and distributor CJ CheilJedang. In complete, Aqua has raised simply over $8 million, Palermo stated.

Brittany Chibe, Aqua’s co-founder and chief development officer, has been within the meals trade for over a decade and stated the brand new funding will allow the corporate to start manufacturing its first merchandise by early summer time. That can embody tuna, scallops and floor shrimp.

The corporate lately acquired a 5,000-square-foot food-grade facility in Chicago, nearly practically constructed out, for its pilot facility. Palermo expects Aqua to have the ability to develop between 5,000 and 10,000 kilos of product in a 450-square-foot area.

“What that does is open us as much as have decentralized manufacturing,” Palermo stated. “After we ultimately do transfer into new markets, for instance, Asia, we’re going to have the ability to have a develop facility in Asia and we gained’t must ship merchandise from the U.S. That’s a giant space the place we differentiate in addition to simply the inherent scalability of our merchandise.”

Aqua may also use the funding in hiring extra staff and increasing its roster of restaurant and foodservice shops for product introductions this yr.

Chibe stated the corporate sees “a path to shortly attain business scale,” and can reply to inbound curiosity from cooks with some preliminary pop-up outlets to see the way it goes.

“We’re not likely certain what demand appears to be like like, so if we are able to dedicate one weekend to particular eating places, we are going to learn about how a lot of it they’re going to promote,” Chibe stated. “Then we are able to produce it forward of time to get precisely what they want.”

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