How Aqua Cultured Foods plans to own the entire analog cut seafood space

Anne Palermo knows that in the food industry, appearance matters.

His new company, Aqua Cultured Foods, makes whole seafood analogues through microbial fermentation. The fillets and pieces of fish it creates are said to look and flake in a way similar to the real thing. Considering the way most people in the United States eat seafood – in deliberately cut, unground chunks or chopped chunks – it was vital to perfect this style of cutting as a whole, she said. declared.

“When you have a product that looks like you’re used to, it’s a lot easier to get someone to switch to your product,” said Palermo, co-founder and CEO of the company.

Aqua Cultured Foods, which has been quietly developing its fermented seafood since last year, is ready to step onto the main stage. While it is not likely that any products will be available until next year, the company has worked hard to develop its sea bass, cod, tuna, popcorn shrimp, and animal-free squid for eventual distribution to consumers. restaurants and grocery stores. The company’s go-to-market strategy is still under development, said co-founder and chief growth officer Brittany Chibe, but said there is a lot of enthusiasm for its potential.

“When you have a product that looks like you’re used to, it’s a lot easier to get someone to switch to your product.”

Anne Palermo

Co-founder and CEO, Aqua Cultured Foods

The company has also worked to strengthen its intellectual property protection, with three patents pending to date for its methods, crops and use, Palermo said. The company is working on its start-up funding cycle, which Palermo says will close soon and will be oversubscribed. So far, the company has secured some funding, starting with a $ 200,000 pre-seed investment in April from Big Idea Ventures, according to Crunchbase.

Aqua Cultured Foods is poised to play a long-term role in the alternative seafood market. With more consumer awareness and demand for seafood alternatives, Palermo said the company sees the opportunity to provide the types of products they want.

“When we launch our products, we [going to be] the only ones that have these whole cuts, “Palermo said.” They’re gorgeous, delicious in multiple different applications, and we have several different entry points. “

Getting wet feet

Palermo, which has a background in both food technology and food science, has been eyeing the alternative protein space for years. His interest was motivated by concerns about sustainability and questions how the existing food industry can feed a growing world population. Fermentation seemed to be the best way to solve these problems, and she started experimenting by growing mycelium in her kitchen.

Since then, Aqua Cultured Foods claims to have found a way to ferment an end product that naturally looks and feels like seafood. Most products just need to be cut into the proper shape, flavored and colored, Palermo said. The process is proprietary, but involves a combination of submerged and surface fermentation, she said. The company has also strived to create nutritional value for its products. Each serving will contain 18 to 20 grams of protein and 10 to 12 grams of fiber, along with vitamin B12 and omega-3s, according to the company.

The fermentation process itself uses inexpensive and common inputs, Palermo said. This means that the finished products can cost close to traditional seafood. However, since it is a premium product, it will cost a bit more, but at a price that most consumers can afford, she said.

Optional legend

Courtesy of Aqua Cultured Foods

“Our goal is to feed the world,” Palermo said. “But you can’t do it if you can’t put it on the market for a price the world can afford.”

The end product is also tasteless, which means Aqua Cultured Foods can have a very light touch on the flavors to make it palatable. No bitter blocker or heavy aroma is required, according to the company. Palermo said that the level of nutrition and the lack of flavor of the fermented protein work hand in hand.

“A lot of other alternative seafood right now, they don’t contain any protein,” Palermo said. “What they do is it’s purely a starch product. And so there is just no nutrition, there is no vitamins, minerals, protein. , fiber. So what they do is they add different kinds of protein isolates, be it soy or peas or whey. But then they have the problem of having a little bit of polarizing flavor. , then they have to add chemical masking agents [or] very high sodium levels to mask that flavor. “

The current protein and process is also very adaptable, Palermo said. By varying the levels of pressure, humidity, and gases during the production process, the same protein can be made into a flaky fish analogue, meaty popcorn shrimp, or a fluffy squid ring, a-t- she declared.

Scaling (without scales)

Aqua Cultured Foods is currently in the process of increasing its scale and improving its science, which will have an impact on when products become available. Palermo said she did not want to take the plunge before there could be an adequate supply. She also wants to ensure that Aqua Cultured’s products are well suited to their test markets.

The company is setting up in a pilot laboratory to increase its fermentation production. And it works to cut product creation time in half – from 10 to five days. The creation time is a bit longer because the products are whole articles, Palermo said.

Aqua Cultured Foods will test five products in different types of markets, Palermo and Chibe said. The company works with famous chefs and a culinary advisor who knows different types of restaurateurs.

“Someday you might see it on McDonald’s dollar menu, or it might be in a five-star hotel restaurant. It’s really versatile.”

Brittany Chibé

Co-Founder and Director of Growth, Aqua Cultured Foods

“We’re in a really desirable position because everyone from retailers to food service operators are really excited about what we’re doing, so we’re going to be very picky about who we’re going to market with,” Chibe said. .

The company will likely design bespoke whole cut products for applications like sushi and poke bowls, but will target products like shrimp and squid with popcorn in QSR-type restaurants. Palermo said going into the restaurant business will also increase the likelihood of consumer buy-in. Not only consumers 65% of their spending on seafood in restaurants, but restaurant chefs can also prepare what may be considered an unknown product in a way that will make people addicted to it. Palermo said Impossible Foods has shown the success of this approach with the launch of Impossible Burgers – starting in high-end restaurants and, after consumers discover the taste and quality of plant-based burgers, by finding success at the grocery store.

There’s still a lot going on, but the company is poised to seize its share of the alternative seafood space.

“Someday you might see this on McDonald’s dollar menu, or it might be in a five-star hotel restaurant,” Chibe said. “It’s really versatile.”

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