BlueNalu – founded by Chris Somogyi, Chris Dammann, and Lou Cooperhouse – has brought together a team with expertise in cell biology, tissue engineering, intellectual property, food innovation, technology commercialization, and consumer marketing to develop seafood products directly from fish cells in a “way that is healthy for people, humane for animals, and sustainable for our planet,” Cooperhouse (president and CEO) told FoodNavigator-USA.
The company is not yet ready to talk about the cell lines it’s using, the nature of the growth medium (beyond the fact it’s serum-free), or the first species it plans to focus on (it's working on finned fish, crustaceans, and molluscs), but Cooperhouse said it remains “committed to accomplishing this process without any genetic manipulation.”
As for the business model, BlueNalu is not looking to develop a consumer/CPG brand but is instead looking to develop partnerships with players that already have strong brands in foodservice and retail to take products to market, explained Cooperhouse, who forged connections across the industry and worked with hundreds of start-ups in his previous role as executive director of the Rutgers University Food Innovation Center.
“We talking to seafood and diversified CPG products companies and looking to form strategic partnerships with leading global food processors and marketers, in areas of R&D, technology commercialization, operations, marketing and sales, that will enable us to create value-added food products and distribute these to retail and foodservice markets throughout the globe.
“We are performing proprietary research in our own facilities, and partnering with universities and other research institutes in order to accomplish our long-term research objectives. We think we can do something unique in this space.”
“The mission of BlueNalu is totally aligned with our investment strategy, and consistent with consumer demands for products that replace foods derived from conventional animal agriculture.”
Chris Kerr, Chief Investment Officer, New Crop Capital
Why clean seafood?
So are the drivers for ‘clean’ seafood the same as those prompting interest in cultured beef burgers?
Broadly, yes, said Cooperhouse, who said the plant-based meat industry had really paved the way for the cultured meat industry, while both tapped into growing interest from consumers and investors in products enabling shoppers to express their values through their purchases: “Your food choices are an expression of your personal beliefs."
That said, given the laundry list of problems linked to the seafood industry - from overfishing to inhumane slaughter, toxins, contaminants, pollution, plastic, fraud, mislabeling, illegal labor practices, habitat damage, bycatch and inconsistent quality and freshness – you could argue that seafood is an even more compelling place to start than beef if you're interested in cellular agriculture, he said.
As for the size of the clean seafood prize, meanwhile, the addressable market is vast, he claimed.
“There’s room for multiple players in this market [checkout our profiles of clean seafood start-ups Finless Foods and Wild Type]. The global canned tuna market alone is worth something like $15bn, so imagine if you just captured 10% of that?”
What’s in a name? A word with Hawaiian origins, nalu (the noun) most commonly refers to waves and surf, says BlueNalu. As a verb, it means to meditate, ponder, or contemplate, while ‘Nalu it,’ is also slang for ‘go with the flow.’
Fish do not have a quick and painless death, even if their lives are more enjoyable than their factory farmed feathery or furry counterparts, says BlueNalu president and CEO Lou Cooperhouse: “They are dying a slow death from asphyxiation or live evisceration or depressurization, and it's not pretty.”