If health concerns over traditional meat consumption, such as heart disease and harmful cholesterol, are priming the consumer switch to the plant-based counterparts, environmental issues, notably overfishing, are what’s driving the latest craze of seafood alternatives — a whopping $175 million was invested into the sector globally in 2021, Good Food Institute showed, increasing by 92% compared to the prior year.
Current Foods, a startup that provides plant-based tuna and salmon, promising higher scalability than cultured meat and price parity with conventional seafood, has just closed a $18 million seed round led by Silicon Valley’s alt-meat early movers and cultural tastemakers, spanning sports and music.
These investors include Managing Partner at GreatPoint Ventures Ray Lane, Union Grove Venture Partners, Electric Feel Ventures, Astanor Ventures, as well as 12-time NBA All-Star CP3, aka Chris Paul.
Launched by entrepreneur Jacek Prus who has worked in the alt-protein space for the past decade, alongside CTO Ron Shigeta and chief scientific officer Sonia Hurtado, Current Foods’ flagship tuna products are primarily available through B2B across food service and fine dining locations, including celebrity chef Matthew Kenney’s restaurants.
In a comment provided via email, Austen Rosen, founder of Electric Feel Entertainment and Electric Feel Ventures, notes how his fund was founded “on the basis of investing in companies that move the needle forward.” He said, “Current Foods, among our other better-for-you and better for the environment portfolio companies, is doing just that. We’re excited to support their expansion and help bring to life a new generation of food that consumers actually love.”
Eric Archambeau, cofounder and partner at Astanor Ventures, also adds that Current Foods can deliver on taste and texture while providing a real solution for current environmental and health crises. “Across all these factors, Current Foods salmon and tuna are clearly head and fins above other products in their category,” Archambeau said. “We are very impressed with the rapid progress Jacek, Sonia and the team have made in the past two years and could not be more excited to support them in this next chapter of development.”
Price Parity & Similar Function With Seafood
The Current Foods team stresses how the newly raised capital will further support its smoked salmon launch into retail, global expansion into the Japanese market, and the company’s continued product refinement. The goal is to eventually achieve a significant share of the seafood market, around 50%.
“Salmon and tuna are quite a big market, so growth [rather than branching out into other seafood categories] is a big focus for us right now,” Prus told me recently during a Zoom call, adding how the ingredients used to make Current Foods are similar to Beyond Meat with proteins processed differently to mimic the seafood texture.
“Our first ingredient is water, second is pea protein, but processed differently than [plant-based] ground beef protein,” Prus explained. “Then lipids come from sunflower and algae oils which actually gives our products Omega-3 and Omega-3 DHA — the nutrition benefit seafood is famous for. We also designed our product to function in a similar way: our products made without cholesterol are high in fiber and lower in sodium than regular smoked salmon.”
As an early backer of Beyond Meat, Lane notes how Current Foods reflects what he believes to be the most exciting changes happening in the food innovation space — the reinvention of the food itself. He said: “we feel we have invested in the Beyond Meat of seafood, extending the runway of wild tuna, salmon and other predator ocean species for their critical supply of protein to humans and non-humans.”
He adds the overall consumer consciousness towards environmental protection has raised since alt-protein was introduced to the market, and seafood alternative companies such as Current Foods will play a critical role in improving sustainability and ocean health. “With the earth’s growing population eating the foods we love, we are paying the ultimate price: global warming, eroding health, and dwindling protein sources,” Lane said.
Skyrocketed seafood price in the U.S. due to inflation could also benefit the alternative seafood sector. Fresh seafood prices increased by 12.1% on average year-over-year to $8.51 per unit in March 2022, recent data from IRI and 210 Analytics showed. “Seafood is by far the largest segment of price increase because it has such a wild supply chain,” Prus said, “but we can afford to grow our business with healthy margins.”
Current Foods’ near-term plan is making tuna available at more restaurants and locations shoppers can easily access, and continuing to expand its salmon business through direct-to-consumers and retailers.
“Our products will only become better and better,” added Prus. “In the future, we’ll also launch a salmon steak you can cook at home.”