Alternative seafood startup Aqua Cultured Foods (ACF) is poised to upturn the consumer seafood market in 2022 with a fleet of sustainable, fish-free seafood products.
The cruelty-free seafood, high in protein and Omega-3s, is developed using fermentation and fungi that deliver a taste, texture, and nutritional profile similar to animal-based proteins. While most plant-based seafood is created with starches or protein isolates, which require sodium or chemical additives to counter any “off” flavors, ACF’s process “grows” protein that retains naturally occurring fiber and micronutrients.
The result is a product that is not considered a “processed” food.
“We don’t think the mass market, including restaurants, will accept those highly processed products,” ACF Co-founder and CEO Anne Palermo told Lady Freethinker. “Fermentation delivers a whole, unprocessed food that can be used as a one-to-one replacement in just about every place we see animal-based seafood.”
In the food business, appearance matters.
“When you have a product that looks like what you’re used to, it’s a lot easier to transition,” Palermo said.
Growing consumer consciousness about the environmental and human rights impacts of the seafood industry has spurred investment in the alternative seafood sector. In the first half of 2021, companies developing plant-based, cell-based, and fermentation-derived alternatives to seafood raised $116 million, exceeding the total figure recorded in 2020, according to the Good Food Institute’s State of the Industry Report.
The alternative seafood sector has seen tremendous growth within the last year alone, with data for 2020 showing a 23% surge in U.S. sales.
ACF’s fermentation process uses inexpensive and common inputs, allowing it to offer its products at price points similar to traditional seafood.
“Our goal is to feed the world,” said Palermo. “But you can’t do it if you can’t bring it to market at a price that the world is able to afford.”
ACF’s fish-free seafood also is cheap enough for fast food and realistic enough for fancy restaurants, Co-Founder Brittany Chibe said.
“One day you could see this on the McDonald’s Dollar Menu, or it could be at a five-star hotel’s dining venue,” said Chibe. “It’s really versatile.”