Mermade Seafoods is swimming in cellular farming waters to make cultured scallops – TechCrunch
Mermade Seafoods is poised to disrupt the $8 billion global scallop market with its circular cellular agriculture technology approach to cultured scallop production.
The Israeli company was founded in July 2021 by CEO Daniel Einhorn, CTO Dr Rotem Kadir and COO Dr Tomer Halevy. Einhorn, who has the navy — which explains his love of the sea — and a corporate background, met Kadir and Halevy at his corporate studio, Tech7. They agreed on the idea of cell-based seafood, and Einhorn suggested being their partner.
Mermade Seafoods‘ technology aims to streamline production and deliver a great-tasting scallop, which will be the company’s first product, cheaper than currently available protein alternatives.
As Einhorn explains, foods from cell cultures express biowaste, just like other animals and us humans, and they are usually thrown away. The differentiator of Mermade Seafoods is to use this bio-waste, composed of water, ammonia and carbon dioxide, to feed the algae. This algae is then used as a growth medium to nourish the cells. The company calls this interpretation of aquaponics “cytoponics” and has filed several related patent applications.
This recycling method isn’t just for seafood, but is already being used in other cellular applications, like pharmaceuticals, Einhorn told TechCrunch. Another unique feature is that it reduces the cost of manufacturing cultured cells, which is heavily dependent on expensive growth media which can gobble up between 55% and 90% of the costs. That’s part of why cultured meat is difficult to measure, Einhorn added.
The seafood market as a whole is expected to reach $193.9 billion by 2027, with another report stating that “Scallops are one of the most traded and consumed seafood in the world and the vast majority of production comes from aquaculture”.
And it seems to be growing fast to boot. In 2018, the global scallop aquaculture market was valued at over $5.8 billion “with farms producing nearly three times the biomass of the entire wild harvest”.
Even with all this production, it is well known that food production in general will not be able to meet the demand of the population for the next few decades, which is why startups like Mermade Seafoods and other seafood companies grown like Bluu Seafood, Wildtype, CellMeat, Plantish and BlueNalu are working to create alternative sources of protein.
And also attract the attention of investors. Behind chicken and beef, seafood alternatives make up only about 0.1% of the total seafood retail market in the United States, according to a report by the Good Food Institute. Collectively, 15 startups in this space raised $175 million in 2021, double the amount raised in 2020, GFI reported. In fact, that number is actually higher because nine other deals have taken place without disclosing funding amounts.
Mermade Seafoods is among the latest to secure funding, raising $3.3 million in seed funding from a group including OurCrowd, Fall Line and Sake Bosch. The investment closed in June and will allow the company to employ more stem cell and algae researchers to develop its product and achieve lab-scale production by 2023, said Einhorn said.
He says being commercially ready is always a tough question to answer, even though the company is planning for five years.
“To get to that lab-scale production, we’re talking a few tenths of a unit, and we want to get there by 2023,” Einhorn added. “We want to bring the cost of scallops down and we’re looking for a very significant decrease in cost in this cycle.”