CHICAGO — Food technology startup Aqua Cultured Foods has raised $2.1 million in an oversubscribed pre-seed funding round. Investors include Supply Change Capital, Aera VC, Sustainable Food Ventures, Hanfield Venture Partners, Lifely VC, Conscience VC, Kingfisher Capital, Big Idea Ventures and Gonzalo Ramirez Martiarena, who previously led Louis Dreyfus Co. and Swiss Pampa.
Aqua Cultured Foods is developing whole-muscle cut seafood alternatives created through microbial fermentation. The company plans to introduce its first commercial products early next year.
The company said it can produce seafood analogs, including tuna, whitefish, calamari and shrimp using biomass fermentation and a proprietary strain of fungi. The process does not require animal inputs, genetic altering or modification. The products are not formulated with starches or protein isolates. A serving contains 18 to 20 grams of protein, 10 to 12 grams of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, with no sodium, saturated fat or cholesterol.
The funding will be used to support research and development and commercialization of the company’s products. The team is focusing on achieving various textures, shapes, nutritional values and flavoring techniques. Aqua Cultured Foods has filed patents on the method of production, its usage in the food system and its strain of fungi.
“Interest at this stage has frankly exceeded our capacity to bring in partners, leading to an oversubscribed round, but it’s left us in a good position for future investment and very optimistic about our approach to delivering more sustainable protein,” said Anne Palermo, founder and chief executive officer of Aqua Cultured Foods. “Our next step is to work on commercializing our products from lab-scale to bring to the foodservice and retail channels, including the fresh refrigerated set for grocery, so that our products can reach both restaurant tables and the seafood counter.”
Aqua Cultured Foods recently expanded its core team with the addition of Bob Schultz as lead scientist. Mr. Schultz previously was lead food engineer and product lead at Simulate, the early-stage biotechnology company behind Nuggs plant-based chicken nuggets. Additionally, Johnny Carino, an executive chef and restaurateur, has joined Aqua Cultured Foods as head of culinary innovation.
“Aqua Cultured Foods is quickly becoming the leader in seafood alternatives,” said Shayna Harris, co-founder and managing partner of Supply Change Capital. “The microbial-based fermentation method that Aqua has developed not only brilliantly mimics the look and mouthfeel of a whole fish filet — the holy grail in alt-proteins — but it dramatically reduces the environmental footprint of the mainstream seafood supply chain. In addition, the nutritional integrity is unparalleled by anything else we have looked at in this space."