Chicago-based startup aims to curb overfishing and environmental impacts with fungi-based, eco-friendly seafood substitutes.
The global demand for seafood has led to overfishing, threatening the world’s oceans and pushing some species towards extinction. To combat this, Chicago-based FoodTech startup Aqua Cultured Foods is on a mission to provide alternative seafood products that are nutritionally superior and safer than traditional options. With high protein and fiber content, these vegan, non-GMO, and antibiotic-free products boast a fraction of the calories of conventional seafood.
The company recently secured $5.5 million in seed funding led by Stray Dog Capital to expand production at its new Chicago plant, hire additional staff, and further develop its low-cost production platform of fungi-based seafood. Additional investors include H Venture Partners, Aztec Capital Management, and Amplifica Capital, among others.
Aqua Cultured Foods, founded in 2020 by CEO Anne Palermo and Brittany Chibe, uses proprietary mycoprotein fermentation processes to create a range of alt-seafood products. The startup employs a unique fungi strain that transforms plant-based ingredients into seafood alternatives with a realistic taste, texture, and appearance, suitable for one-to-one replacement of animal-based seafood. The company also produces fungi-based minced seafood fillings for applications such as dumplings, ravioli, and sushi rolls.
Alternative protein is among the fastest-growing segments in food tech, with venture capital investment surging 17x to $5.1 billion between 2016 and 2021. With the latest funding, Aqua Cultured Foods aims to scale up production at its new Chicago facility, hire new staff, and prepare for a launch featuring scallops, tuna, and ground shrimp at select restaurants.
Setting itself apart from competitors, Aqua Cultured Foods utilizes a specific fungi strain that grows into fibrous biomass, which can be harvested without multiple processing steps or expensive equipment. The company’s unique approach enables the production of large product volumes in small spaces with minimal labor and without the need for costly steel bioreactors or other processing steps.
To date, Aqua Cultured Foods has raised over $8 million in total funding, with plans to make a significant impact on the seafood market by offering eco-friendly alternatives.