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Alternative seafood business Aqua Cultured Foods raises $5.5M

Photo: Aqua Cultured Foods

Food tech venture capitalists expect alternative seafood firms to grow in 2023. Nevertheless, according to the Good Food Institute’s annual investor report, investors predict 40 investments to be made in this area this year, up from 36 in 2022.

TechCrunch reported on many investments in firms making alternative seafood last year. For example, one of the greatest venture capital investments into alternative seafood in 2022 went into Wildtype, which raised $100 million in a Series B round for its cultured salmon product. Meanwhile, New School Foods, Plantish, Bluu Seafood, and the ISH Company announced investment.

Aqua Cultured Foods in Chicago announced $5.5 million in early investment to bring its pipeline of cultured seafood alternatives to market today.

When the chance arose, co-founder and CEO Anne Palermo returned to school to study product development and science.

After that, she founded her first health snack firm using patented protein isolate compositions.

“During the development of that product in particular, I got into the alternative protein set scene because it helped me understand that there are a lot of alternative proteins that are not highly polished and do not originate from animals,” Palermo said.

After learning about the microbial fermentation process for making food, Palermo chose seafood because “it is the most unstable supply chain of any animal protein” due to factors like the rise of the middle class and population growth in places like China and Southeast Asia, where the seafood is the most consumed protein per capita.

“After really seeing and identifying what’s going on, I knew that we had to come up with a fantastic product that could meet the look, texture, nutrition and commercial scale, be able to eat it and to make the maximum global impact,” Palermo said. Overfishing and climate change are depleting fish supplies.

Aqua Cultured Foods makes whole-muscle-cut calamari, shrimp, scallops, tuna, and whitefish. In addition, the firm makes minced “seafood” fillings for dumplings, ravioli, and sushi.

Palermo remarked it was unique texturally. “It is practically indistinguishable from tuna when it is inside of a maki roll. It’s almost scallop-like. The raw items are smooth and suited for rawness. It’s impressive.”

Palermo said the business used patented mycoprotein (fungi) fermentation procedures without animal inputs, genetic alteration, or modification. She added that this approach lowers food prices to match conventional seafood.

“Aqua invented unique processes and techniques of manufacturing based on technology and goods that have existed for hundreds of years, so we don’t have the same regulatory obstacles as other sorts of technologies do,” Palermo added. “They’re FDA-approved.” So it helps us accelerate the market and have many great tastings.”

Stray Dog Capital, H Ventures, Aztec Capital Management, and Amplifica Capital joined Supply Change Capital, Big Idea Ventures, Hyde Park Angels, Aera VC, Kingfisher Capital, and Swiss Pampa to invest in Aqua. In addition, CJ CheilJedang invested strategically in the round. Palermo said Aqua had raised about $8 million.

Aqua’s co-founder and chief growth officer, Brittany Chibe, has been in the food sector for over a decade and claimed the additional finance would allow the company to start manufacturing by early summer: tuna, scallops, and ground shrimp.

The company’s pilot plant is a 5,000-square-foot food-grade Chicago facility. Palermo anticipates Aqua to grow 5,000–10,000 pounds of product in 450 square feet.

Palermo claimed that it allows decentralized production. “When we move into other areas, like Asia, we’ll be able to establish a grow facility there and not have to transport products from the U.S. It and our products’ inherent scalability distinguish us.

Aqua will hire more workers and establish restaurants and food service locations for product launches this year.

Chibe said the business sees “a road to swiftly achieve commercial scale” and would try pop-up stores to gauge chef enthusiasm.

“We’re not really sure what demand looks like, so if we can commit one weekend to certain restaurants, we will know roughly how much they’re going to sell,” Chibe said. “Then we can pre-produce it to obtain exactly what they need.”

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