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Anne Palermo: Novel Protein Fermentation Technology That Produces Seafood Alternatives

Aqua Cultured Foods has developed novel protein fermentation technology that produces seafood alternatives with the appearance, texture, taste and nutritional content of conventional seafood — and without microplastics, mercury, antibiotics, PCBs, parasites, or a high risk of food borne illness.

Tell us about yourself?

After a career in finance I transitioned into food tech, food science and culinary innovation. I launched my first CPG company and developed proprietary technology for a high-protein snack (which grew to national distribution and a multimillion-dollar run rate).

However, after learning more about the challenges of sustainably feeding a growing population, I began applying myself to solve a more pressing problem than snack foods. When I achieved the result I was hoping for, I contacted my co-founder, Brittany Chibe, an experienced sales and marketing executive for CPG food companies, and convinced her to help me take this technology to the commercialization stage.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Relax. Everything takes much longer than you think it will.

What problem does your business solve?

Currently, 90% of wild fisheries are overfished, leaving 170 countries with unmet demand for seafood. Moreover, global demand for seafood is expected to increase by 30%, and the population is projected to hit 10 billion by 2050. Traditional agri- and aquaculture cannot keep up.

Aqua Cultured Foods is dedicated to feeding the world more sustainably with nutrient-rich foods and complete protein sources via seafood alternatives. We can feed the next billion people, all while protecting our planet and oceans from the detrimental impact of traditional aquaculture.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

We’re motivated by concern for the planet and by the need for more sustainable ways to produce food.

Alternative proteins today lie in one of three primary areas: cell-cultured (“lab-grown”) meat, plant-based food development, and fermentation science. I was most interested in fermentation because it’s a highly resource- and energy-efficient way to produce protein. Fermentation yields a whole, unprocessed food, which is significantly different from other alt-proteins.

I found that no companies in the fermentation space were dedicated to seafood, even though it’s responsible for some of the most pressing environmental issues of our time. Aqua Cultured Foods is the first to work with fermentation to develop alt-seafood.

My co-founder Brittany is an experienced diver, and she was moved by the damage that she’s personally witnessed in her time underwater. Overfishing has led to environmental catastrophes in world oceans including ecosystem destruction, plastic waste, and unintended bycatch. Our oceans and coastal regions are more important for mitigating climate change, and ensuring a livable planet, than even rainforests.

What is your magic sauce?

Seafood is inherently delicate, compared to say a burger or nugget from mycoprotein, and there’s a much higher bar for realistic textures. We had to work on achieving the perfect texture, along with high protein and the right flavor. When you have realistic texture, great taste, and nutritional content, that’s called a “holy grail” in alt-protein.

We’ve built a lot of proprietary technology to achieve that. All mycoprotein fermentation involves controlling environmental conditions like temperature and humidity. However on top of those basics, we have developed a very different and specific production method, using a proprietary strain of fungi.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

$70 billion of ocean and farmed seafood is consumed outside of homes in the U.S.—if Aqua captures five percent of this market, it amounts to approximately 50 billion pounds of sea animals saved.

In turn, by reducing pressure on ocean and coastal resources, we improve ecosystems, reduce bycatch of non-target species, and restore fish stocks. In five years as our production increases we believe we can approach 250 billion pounds of sea life saved and corresponding environmental benefits.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

Our biggest challenge has been selecting the right partnerships, from investment to commercialization to launch partners. With a product like ours that is going to change the future of seafood, the demand and interest we’re receiving can be overwhelming at times. Our mission is to be the world’s supplier of alternative seafood, and with that comes a responsibility to ensure we’re partnering with the very best in the industry.

We are making some difficult decisions about how and who we’re going to work with, but I think we’re ultimately making the right choices. For example, on the investment front, we’re extremely happy with the group of investors that joined our pre-seed round as they are all mission and value-aligned with our goals, which allowed us to raise one of the largest, if not the largest, pre-seed rounds for companies using fermentation for alt-proteins.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

We are looking for strategic partners to help us scale up, product development partners, chefs and restaurant chains interested in working with our products, and food scientists to join our team who are passionate about saving the oceans and feeding the next billion people on the planet. You can learn more about Aqua on our website: aquaculturedfoods.com

Written by Mark Smith

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

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