BlueNalu, a cellular aquaculture company growing seafood in the lab, announced a partnership with Nutreco, one of the world’s largest fish feed companies, late last week.
Speaking with BlueNalu CEO Lou Cooperhouse at the time, he told me that working with Nutreco will help BlueNalu commercialize its cell-based seafood in two ways. First, BlueNalu can tap into Nutreco’s extensive knowledge of fish feed so that BlueNalu can optimize its media: the nutrient-dense “food” in which cell cultures are grown.
Though Nutreco currently focuses on feeding live fish, Cooperhouse said that their solution has very similar components to what BlueNalu uses to grow its fish cells in a lab. In fact, he claims that making food for cell cultures is even simpler. “If you’re feeding a living fish, they need certain ingredients to maintain skin, brain, etc,” he said. “But we’re only trying to feed cells that we need.” Think: muscle and fat cells.
Once BlueNalu brings its cell-based fish to market — which he hopes will be within two years — Cooperhouse said that Nutreco could also serve as a supply chain partner for media ingredients. BlueNalu will need a lot of feed; in five years, the startup plans build a massive facility that will produce a whopping 18 million pounds of cell-baased seafood per year.
Media (or cell food) is typically one of the most significant hurdles for cell-based meat and seafood companies. Extracting cells from an animal is cheap; it’s growing them to a significant number in a short time frame that’s the real challenge. Currently media is quite costly, which is why cell-based meat is so costly (it’s typically at least 10x more expensive than animal meat).
Other companies are trying to solve the cell culture feed issue. Canadian startup Future Fields is developing an animal-free media to sell to cellular agriculture companies; in Japan, Integriculture is developing its own B2B feed solution. Some cellular ag companies, like JUST, are developing their own plant-based media internally.
The partnership with Nutreco could give BlueNalu a leg up over other cultured seafood companies. Nutreco’s expertise and existing supply chain could help the cell-based fish startup develop more efficient growth media, and scale it more quickly when the time comes.
But the partnership isn’t just beneficial for BlueNalu. It will also give Nutreco an “in” to the cell-based meat space, where it will join other large ingredient suppliers like Merck and Cargill. Talk about a big fish in a small pond.