Rethinking seafood: “Cellular aquaculture” pioneers BlueNalu raise US$4.5m

17 August 2018

As cultured meat continues to attract attention from global investors, manufacturers and start-ups, a US firm is pioneering a technique of producing real seafood products directly from fish cells. The technology is tipped to be a disruptive game-changer to current industry practices. Just two months after the launch of the company, BluNalu, a trailblazer in the field of "cellular aquaculture," has announced the closing of a US$4.5 million seed round.

New Crop Capital – a specialized private venture fund that primarily provides angel, seed, and Series A funding – is the lead investor and was joined by a diverse coalition of 25 venture organizations and individuals from the US, UK, Hong Kong, Israel and Luxembourg.

BlueNalu says its cellular aquaculture process will provide an alternative to current industry practices in which fish are farmed or wild-caught, ultimately producing real seafood products directly from fish cells. The company says that this is achieved in a way that is healthy for people and humane for animals while also being sustainable for the planet. 

"Cellular aquaculture" is when living cells are isolated from fish tissue, placed into culture media for proliferation and then assembled into fresh and frozen seafood products. BlueNalu has pledged to carry out this process without any genetic manipulation. 

It is also performing proprietary research in its own facilities and partnering with universities and other research institutes in order to accomplish long-term research objectives as well as forming strategic partnerships with food processors and marketers to create value-added food products and distribute these to retail and foodservice markets around the world. 

Based in San Diego, California, BlueNalu wants to educate consumers and industry about the cellular aquaculture sector, providing a variety of helpful resources so that there is greater awareness of the industry challenges that exist and a better understanding of the marketplace for seafood products produced using its trademarked technology.

"This is the largest seed round to date in this category and one of the largest that has occurred globally in the entire 'clean meat' space. We are very excited at the market potential for BlueNalu and their ability to offer consumers an alternative to conventional animal sources that today originate only in our oceans and seas," says Chris Kerr, Chief Investment Officer at New Crop Capital.

"It's time to rethink seafood and how we can sustainably feed our global population in the decades ahead," says Lou Cooperhouse, President & CEO of BlueNalu. 

"We are very grateful for the tremendous interest in BlueNalu from both the financial and mission-driven venture community and extremely pleased by the global reach and diversity of the investors in our seed round. This level of funding will allow us to aggressively develop our technology platform and the commercialization strategy required for product manufacture."

"We are also implementing strategic partnerships that will enable us to ultimately reach our target customers with a line of great-tasting, distinctive and cost-effective seafood products for global distribution."

"Eating Blue"

BlueNalu's concept of "Eating Blue" comes at a time when more and more consumers are pursuing environmentally friendly and ecologically responsible decisions that help to protect the environment and sustain its natural resources. By "Eating Blue," consumers can consider the oceans and make more sustainable decisions with their seafood choices. 

"Consumers today are looking for more from their food choices and are seeking product attributes that are healthy not just for themselves, but that are also healthy for the planet. BlueNalu's technology allows for the production of fresh and frozen seafood products that are trusted, safe, and sustainable, according to the company," the company writes. 

The evolution of cultured meat 

The work at BlueNalu comes at a time of fast-paced growth within the cultured lab-grown meat space which has attracted interest from a variety of key investors and innovation from all over the world in recent years. 

Just last month Mosa Meat, a spin-off company from Maastricht University which was behind the world's first hamburger made directly from cow cells back in 2013, raised €7.5 million (US$8.8 million) to bring cultured meat to market by 2021. 

The Dutch food start-up first inspired the emergence of an entirely new industry through pioneering work and proving the concept of cultured meat five years ago and now Mosa Meat is currently developing its first commercial products. This marks the first investment in a European cultured meat company, putting Europe on the map for the next generation of meat production.

Lab-grown meat is making waves among some of the world's biggest investors tipping the innovation to be the future of protein-packed food. 

Last summer, clean meat innovators Memphis Meat received groundbreaking support from investors, including billionaire entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates, as well as one of the world's largest global agricultural companies, Cargill. 

Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Memphis Meats is developing methods to produce meat directly from animal cells, without the need to breed or slaughter animals.

In February, the venture capital arm of US multinational corporation Tyson Foods – the world's second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef and pork – invested in the food tech start-up, insisting it's not counter-intuitive. 

Also at the beginning of this year, groundbreaking Israeli food-tech startup, SuperMeat, raised US$3 million in seed funding and joined forces with one of Europe's largest poultry producers, PHW, establishing itself as a significant contender in the global shift towards lab-grown clean chicken.

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