All the pieces are falling into place in BlueNalu’s push to be the world’s first producer of cell-cultured seafood products. Last month, San Diego-based BlueNalu signed an agreement with Netherlands-based Nutreco – a global leader in animal nutrition and aquafeed – to establish and scale-up a food-grade supply chain for cell-cultured seafood manufacturing.
BlueNalu’s collaboration with Nutreco goes back to 2019 when the company invested in BlueNalu’s Series A financing round. This next stage of the companies’ partnership marks the beginning of Nutreco’s food-grade supply chain infrastructure development in parallel to BlueNalu’s production phases, from pilot scale development to regulatory stages, and its subsequent commercialization activities.
“Cell-cultured seafood is expensive, but with the right kinds of suppliers like Nutreco and with the right kind of technologies that we’ve developed, we can drive the costs down for the raw materials over time,” said BlueNalu CEO Lou Cooperhouse. “Our vision to create a healthy, secure and sustainable protein solution with cell-cultured seafood, starts by solving several key challenge areas, which include the shift from a pharma-grade to food-grade ingredient supply. I’m proud to share that between our team’s innovation and incredible strategic partners, we’ve continued to overcome these hurdles.”
In October of last year, the company released a strategic plan outlining its path to profitability through large-scale production of premium seafood products like bluefin tuna. The supply of food-grade feed is an important piece in the strategic plan.
“Our team has achieved significant technological feats that have reinforced our pathway and support commercial viability,” said Lauran Madden, Ph.D., chief technology officer at BlueNalu. “This commitment with Nutreco further enhances our technological readiness and our ability to scale and bring products to the market.”
Solving Sustainability in Seafood
Bringing sustainable products to market is especially important in seafood. According to a report put out by Tokyo University’s Center for Global Education, overfishing has depleted the population of Pacific bluefin tuna to just 2.6% of its historic unfished size.
Also, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 35% of global seafood catches are wasted during processing and transportation, with a quarter of the losses caused by fish being thrown back because they are too small or an unwanted species. The method used to catch bluefin tuna is a concern to vulnerable or endangered species like silky sharks, striped marlin and sea turtles.
“With bluefin tuna, it’s checking every box,” Cooperhouse said. “It’s absolutely not sustainable and even some retailers and many restaurants – whether or not its successful – they don’t want it on the menu for the same reasons some companies take a pass on Chilean seabass. They want to only have sustainable or mostly sustainable fish offerings on the menu.”
In addition to providing a sustainable alternative to an overfished seafood item, BlueNalu’s cell-cultured products do not contain mercury or microplastics that are increasingly polluting fish in the oceans and is 100% yield as opposed to fish that lose a lot of edible meat through offcuts like heads, tails, scales and bones that result in 20% to 30% less yield.
Although the highly sought after bluefin tuna will be its first product, BlueNalu intends to eventually bring a portfolio of seafood products to global markets in conjunction with its global partners like Nutreco.
“At Nutreco, it is our purpose to feed the growing global population in a safe and sustainable way, and we understand the important role cell-cultured proteins can play in addressing this global challenge,” said Joost Matthijssen, chief strategy officer at Nutreco. “That is why we are pleased to invest further to support BlueNalu’s ongoing development and commercialization efforts and the cell-cultured industry at large.”
Nearing Regulatory Approval
On its road to commercialization, BlueNalu products must first be approved by regulatory agencies. The company is focusing on approval efforts in the U.S., Japan, South Korea and Singapore, Cooperhouse said, adding that FDA approval in the U.S. and regulatory approval in Singapore is “pretty imminent” because both countries have been proactive and have put testing methodologies in place.
“We’ve submitted documentation to them. We’re very confident in our process and our safety. It still takes more time because we need to do more testing, but sometime over the next year we anticipate having FDA approval,” he said.
Cooperhouse said Japan and South Korea have also been proactive in looking to cell-cultured seafood as solution to some of the issues associated with fishing.
“I think COVID was a wakeup call for supply chain problems on the planet,” he said, and pointed out that food supply issues exacerbated by the war in Ukraine have put a focus on grain, but seafood from Russia is also affected by the war. There is also a collapse in crab populations in Alaska.
“There are multiple wakeup calls about how fragile the supply chain is,” he added.
CEO: Lou Cooperhouse
Headquarters: Sorrento Valley
Business: Cell-cultured seafood products
Notable: Celebrity chef Roy Yamaguchi is a BlueNalu investor and serves on the company’s advisory board.