"Sea bass" grown by Aqua Cultured Foods' fermentation method. Photo: Kezia / Aqua Cultured Foods.

Alternative seafood start-up raises $2.1m

United States food technology start-up Aqua Cultured Foods (ACF) has announced the closure of an oversubscribed pre-seed funding round of $2.1 million, which it said is one of the largest pre-seed rounds for companies using fermentation for alternative proteins.

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Funding will be used to accelerate research and development to enable commercialisation of its whole-muscle cut, sushi-quality filets of tuna and whitefish, popcorn shrimp, calamari, and scallop alternatives from its novel protein fermentation technology.

The company is focusing on adjusting production conditions and inputs to achieve different textures, shapes, and nutritional values, as well as flavouring techniques.

Anne Palermo: "Interest at this stage has frankly exceeded our capacity to bring in partners."


“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 ACF chief executive Anne Palermo.

“Our next step is to work on commercialising 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.”

The company plans to release its first products next year.

Organic matter

ACF says its fermentation process starts with a widely available, affordable, unprocessed organic matter and a nutrient-rich solution to “feed” and nurture the microbes. It then introduces a specific strain of fungi to begin the transformation. By controlling environmental factors like heat, humidity and moisture, the end result is a whole protein with a realistic texture and taste to traditional seafood.

The company claims its seafood alternatives are nutritionally superior to traditional and plant-based seafood options, with comparable protein and omega-3 fatty acids, but with fibre and no saturated fat or cholesterol. The omega-3 is added via a patent pending process and is vegan.

Investors in the pre-seed round 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, former CEO of Louis Dreyfus Company and founder/CEO of Swiss Pampa.

Holy grail of alt-proteins

“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 mouth-feel of a whole fish fillet - 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.”