Daphna Heffetz is the CEO and Co-Founder of Wanda Fish, a cellular agriculture company aimed at producing cell-based fish meat, starting with bluefin tuna. We talked about making cell-based fish entirely out of plant materials, the problems our oceans face today, and why Wanda Fish will only sell to high end restaurants to start.
J: Tell me about your background and how you came to be the CEO and co-founder of Wandafish.
D: I have been around for a long time in the biotechnology industry but focusing on life sciences. Almost two years ago, the Kitchen Hub approached me and tried to interest me in establishing Wanda Fish. I didn’t know enough about the issues of the ocean at that time, so I started to read and speak to several people.
J: Can you tell me more about what Wanda Fish does and what makes it unique from other cell-based fish products?
D: What we are doing is a variety of cultivated fish filets. Our strategy is to have a premium product that originates from the top fish species like bluefin tuna and yellowtail. We produce a whole-cut fish filet consisting of muscle and fat cells and make it similar to the fish itself by taking all the elements from the fish itself. We first take a one-time single sample of the fish tissue and never go back to the fish. We separate required cells, mainly muscle, and fat, which compose the fish filet and grow them in the same manner they would grow in the fish body. We are doing it in the lab initially and later on in a hygienic manufacturing facility in a bioreactor. All the elements are plant-based, no animal is used as the animal components are replaced with plant-based ones. We don’t add any supplements or additives because all the cells are taken from the fish and have the elements from the fish itself.
J: What is the significance of the problem that Wanda Fish solves?
D: The reason it’s so needed is because the population of the world is growing so rapidly. Also, the ocean is becoming very much polluted and 80% of its pollution is manmade. Also, there is unregulated fishing which is causing many types of fish to be endangered. More than 70% of the oxygen we all breathe is from the ocean.
J: What stage is Wanda Fish currently at?
D: It is already in the lab stage but in process development and gradual scaling. We are working with tabletop bioreactors that have all the elements of big bioreactors.
J: Who are the ultimate customers?
D: The product at the beginning will be served to restaurants. However, at the next stage, it will be sold in retail and you can get it in the supermarket.
J: What is the reason for this strategy?
D: More companies that are more advanced in us that started in 2017 or 2018 are also looking to sell to restaurants. One of the reasons for that is that it’s like a clinical study, you are selling to people, and you get feedback. Also, this helps spread branding. And most of all, in restaurants, the selling price is higher. Even before having price parity, you can sell to restaurants without losing money because the price point is much higher.
J: Is there a specific type of restaurant that you are selling to?
D: Because we are focusing on the top fish species, we are looking to start in high-end restaurants. This will be everywhere, hopefully in Asia and Japan and in the U.S. and Israel. We are going to do sales in countries based on the economic and regulatory situation.
J: What are the challenges of adapting to sell in different markets?
D: Unique market education. Because we won’t be the first in the market since there are a couple of companies ahead of us, still in production, market education will be minimal when we enter the market. In principle, there are some voluntary organizations, like GFI, that have done market and consumer research on the consumer world already. Through them, we have ideas of market acceptance.
J: What do the next few years look like for you, and what are the goals that you are trying to hit?
D: We are progressing with bluefin tuna as our first product and gradually scaling up with cost reduction and price parity. This can be done by increasing the density of cells in the bioreactors, lower-cost ingredients, and recycling of the medium. We are starting the regulatory process in several territories and hoping to collaborate with big international food suppliers.
J: When do you think you’ll be ready for market?
D: This will take a couple of years, but the goal is to be in the market in 2026.