BlueNalu is on a mission to become a global leader in cellular aquaculture. We were excited to speak to Lou Cooperhouse, President and CEO and Chris Dammann, CTO to understand the drivers behind the rising demand in cellular agriculture, their advice to start-ups looking to scale-up and unlock new partnerships as well as the solutions to food security in unprecedented times.
What is driving the rising demand and latest advancements of cellular aquaculture?
Lou Cooperhouse: There are many factors driving demand in cellular aquaculture.
First, there is a fundamental gap in our seafood supply chain, and this is attracting the attention of many government and non-government organizations and investors worldwide. The demand for seafood is at an all-time high and continues to increase worldwide, but our seafood supply simply cannot keep up with this demand. Our planet will not have an adequate supply of seafood to feed our future generations, and cell-based seafood will provide a third leg on the stool of our supply chain, and complement the wild-caught and farm-raised options that exist today.
Secondly, consumers and customers are increasingly challenged by the variability that exists with the seafood industry today, and the potential for environmental contaminants. While seafood is a healthy source of protein and omega-3s, consumers are concerned about the potential for mercury levels, microplastics, toxins, parasites and pollutants that are found in the ocean and can make their way into seafood. BlueNalu’s products will have the same nutritional profile of conventional seafood products, but will be free of mercury, and other contaminants, and will also be made without the usage of genetic engineering.
Third, we are seeing significantly increased interest in cell-based seafood because of the many sustainability benefits it provides, and the fact that we can reduce the stresses to our fisheries, help preserve sea life, and maintain the critically-important ecosystem in our ocean that is critical for our entire planet’s livelihood.
Fourth, BlueNalu’s processes result in food security and a more stable supply chain, and increased consistency, while also displacing levels of imports. This is an extraordinary benefit, as today seafood may travel thousands of miles from point of capture to point of consumption, with a significant environmental footprint, but our future BlueNalu factories will be demand-driven and will essentially redefine ‘local’ with factories that may be just a few hundred miles away from population centers.
Fifth, we are excited that we can offer great benefits to the food service operator and the home consumer. Our products will be available year-round, and result in reduced variability and increased consistency. Our products will also be 100% usable, and will have no waste (compared to 60-70% yield that may be typical) and will not require expensive labor for trimming fish filets. There will also not be any issues associated with deboning, and we anticipate that our raw seafood products will have a longer shelf-life as well.
Cell-based seafood is a solution to world-wide food security problems and addresses these consumer concerns. A 2019 report from management consulting firm AT Kearney predicts that cell-based meats will account for 35% of total global meat consumption in just two decades, with a 41% annual growth rate between 2025 and 2040, while conventional meat sources from animal farming will experience sharp declines and represent just 40% of total meat consumption by 2040. We expect cell-based seafood to participate in this growth in a significant way because of global demand.
In order to make the most significant impacts to our global seafood supply chain, BlueNalu has developed a platform technology that allows us to focus our efforts across a broad array of species, initially focusing on finfish. This strategy allows us to be demand driven for each country in which we go to market, in which we can manufacture seafood close to market demand and displace the traditional excessive distances that fish are transported today with a locally-supplied product. BlueNalu will work in partnership with the seafood processing industry, and supplement the current industry practice in which fish are farmed or wild-caught in our ocean and seas, in which our cell-based seafood products will result in a more stable and sustainable seafood supply for our planet.
What are your latest innovations in texture, taste and new product development?
Chris Dammann: A few months ago, BlueNalu successfully demonstrated what no other cell-based seafood company has been able to: Our whole muscle, cell-based yellowtail amberjack was successfully prepared in various cooking applications: deep-fried in fish tacos, raw in a poke bowl, and acidified in kimchi. We are on track to produce our next species, mahi mahi, which will be our first commercial product we put into a test market
How have partnerships and collaborations helped BlueNalu in your mission to become the global leader in cellular aquaculture? Can you give any examples?
Lou Cooperhouse: We have been fortunate to attract strategic investors and partnerships with like-minded corporations, non-profit organizations, and investors all over the world who are leading sustainability efforts, aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and solving for global food security.
Our partnership with Nutreco, a global leader in animal nutrition and aquafeed, is a key example. Nutreco brings a breadth of knowledge and deep expertise to the partnership with BlueNalu, including fish nutrition, raw materials expertise and ingredient procurement at competitive costs. Both companies’ technologies are well aligned to advance sustainable solutions to feed the world.
Since our goal is to bring cell-based seafood to the world as aggressively as possible, our strategic investors and partners are essential to our success as they are experts in supply chain, operations, sales, marketing and distribution. They will help bring us to market in the most effective, cost-efficient way and we will leverage all of our strengths to collectively bring cell-based seafood to the world.
BlueNalu has expanded and grown significantly as a company since you attended Future Food-Tech for the first time. What advice would you give to an emerging start-up who has a vision, like you did, to transform the sector? What could they gain from attending the summit?
Lou Cooperhouse: I’ve been fortunate to attend and serve as a speaker at Future Food-Tech conferences at each of their venues – New York, San Francisco, Singapore and London. These conferences have been extremely valuable to me, as they have served as an amazing window on innovation in our industry, and also as a means for extraordinary connectivity between and among entrepreneurs, suppliers and service providers and investors.
My advice to an emerging start-up is to think first about the specific marketplace solution you seek to solve, what unique product and selling proposition you can provide (and your vision and mission statement), how you plan to accomplish this, what core competencies will be required, how you can maintain a competitive advantage, and what team can you assemble that will be able to efficiently execute upon your mission. At the end of the day, it’s all about the team you’ve assembled, that can include full and part-time employees and a network of advisors and consultants, that will result in business success. Relationships are critically important, and conferences like Future Food-Tech are an outstanding venue for making important connections that can dramatically benefit your business.
It’s also critical to think holistically about the business, and to begin thinking about what is required for long-term success shortly after founding a company. BlueNalu has been able to demonstrate global leadership in the category of cell-based seafood, with a very lean and effective management team that has been focused on each of the holistic features that we identified will be required for success. In our case, this included:
- Expertise in cell biology, with a platform technology for the development of high-value products that command a premium value and do not use genetic engineering, a focus on a least-cost, animal-free media composition, that results in considerable IP potential
- Focus on scale production, with a 5-phase growth strategy that results in ongoing biological, engineering and commercialization milestones
- An aggressive regulatory strategy, with a world-class resource team that will enable us to meet FDA requirements for market launch as expeditiously as possible
- A commitment to market research, to gain an early understanding of the many business opportunities for cell-based seafood and insights on species of greatest interest; and insights on product forms, value-added applications, positioning, communication strategy, and pricing
- A partnership strategy, with a focus on: global partners that can provide infrastructure and support in supply chain, operations, engineering, marketing, sales and distribution; and outstanding investors with a commitment to our success
What challenges, learnings and opportunities have you seen for the cellular community as a result of the current global pandemic and impact on food security?
Lou Cooperhouse: We are seeing more interest in cell-based seafood as a solution to global food security. The global pandemic of COVID-19 has created increased awareness of our planet’s vulnerability. We have seen heightened interest from the investment community, the media and our future customers, as they see cell-based meat and seafood as a solution to food security that results in a more stable supply chain, with dramatically enhanced consistency and traceability.
We feel strongly that the pandemic has revealed a positive solution in the entire alternative protein sector. Consumers are increasingly evaluating our current food systems, the pending effects of climate change, the potential for environmental disasters, etc. and the overall vulnerability of our global food supply. As a result, when it comes to selecting food choices, consumers are seeking products that are not just healthy for themselves or their family, but healthy for the planet. This drives market demand for alternative protein products, and ultimately converts the curious to early adopters.
What’s next for BlueNalu?
Lou Cooperhouse: We are focused on the greatest long-term opportunity, and to become the global leader in cell-based seafood that can sustainably support our need to feed the planet over the decades ahead. As part of this long-term strategy, we have developed a platform technology that can produce a broad array of seafood products initially from finfish, in a demand-driven model that is flexible for each region in which we go to market. So, we are essentially building a library of species and seafood products to meet this global demand.
BlueNalu has always been focused on global impact and solving for food security. We are currently designing our pilot production facility, for an initial market test that is scheduled for the second half of 2021. In the future, we plan to have large-scale food production facilities throughout the world to meet consumer demand.
We recently closed on a successful Series A round of $20 million, which was the largest investment in the cell-based sector globally during 2019. Interest in cell-based seafood is a global opportunity. We have garnered investors from 11 nations to date, originating from Asia, Europe, Middle East, North America and South America.
We will be forging additional strategic partnerships during the coming months and years, in which we can collaborate on operations, engineering, marketing, sales and distribution.