As it begins consumer tastings of its products in Chicago today, Aqua Cultured Foods announces it has raised $5.5 million in seed funding to bring its ultra-realistic alt seafood to market through chef partners and food service distributors. This new capital brings Aqua’s total funding to $7.6 million.
Using a proprietary mycoprotein fermentation process, Aqua develops calamari, shrimp, scallops, tuna, and whitefish alternatives. Its animal and GMO-free products contain natural fiber, protein, and micronutrients and will be available in pieces or minced for its future go-to-market Asian food partners.
“We appreciate having mission-aligned partners that offer strong strategic value for the next phase of our growth, which will involve building up the business and brand,” said Anne Palermo, CEO of Aqua Cultured.
The round was led by Stray Dog Capital, with participation from H Venture Partners, Aztec Capital Management, and Amplifica Capital. Previous backers: Supply Change Capital, Big Idea Ventures, HPA, Aera VC, Kingfisher Family Investments, and Swiss Pampa joined this seed funding.
The round also included a strategic investment from CJ CheilJedang, a South Korea-based global food and bio company owning renowned brands such as Bibigo.
Stewards of investor capital
The new investment will equip the company’s recently acquired food-grade facility, which needs minimal upgrades to scale its fermentation process that uses relatively affordable inputs and equipment. Aqua says its path to price parity is the low cost of scaling its proprietary fermentation methods.
Additionally, the funds will allow to bring Aqua Cultured’s products to market, add key talent, and expand its roster of restaurant and food service outlets for product introductions this year. In October last year, Aqua Cultured announced a collaboration with Swiss hospitality and catering company SV Group to make Aqua’s alt seafood products available via SV’s smart fridges, cafeterias, and event venue clients.
“Being good stewards of investor capital is important to us, so along with hitting milestones earlier than expected, we are benefiting from government programs, academic resources, and other advantages to get to market quickly,” Palermo added.
Moreover, looking to lower expenses, the company announced an acceptance into the Illinois Office of Business Development’s EDGE program. This program provides tax incentives to expanding companies and is estimated to save Aqua hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes over the next decade.
Human and planetary benefits
While often lauded for its health benefits, fish contains pollutants such as microplastics, mercury, pesticides, antibiotics, dioxin, and PCBs, as well as high cholesterol levels and saturated fats, says Aqua. The consumption of seafood, particularly finfish, has been linked to various food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
Furthermore, commercial fishing operations have been linked to many negative environmental impacts, including depletion of fish populations, damage to ecosystems, plastic waste accumulation, and the accidental capture of non-target species.
“We are interested in backing founding teams leveraging unique technologies and approaches that drive a more sustainable future; the work Aqua is doing with alt-seafood has immense potential to drive both human and planetary benefits in a massive $100B+ global market,” said Johnny Ream, Partner at Stray Dog Capital.