New School Foods says its muscle fiber and scaffolding technology for producing whole fish substitute products is now at a stage where it can demonstrate and build a pilot facility. The company’s first product is a plant-based fillet that looks, cooks, tastes and flakes like wild salmon.
The announcement comes after the Toronto-based plant-based seafood maker secured $12 million in seed funding. Participating investors include Lever VC, Blue Horizon Ventures, Hatch, Good Startup and Alwyn Capital. New School Foods has also received funding from Canadian government agencies, including Sustainable Technologies Canada and Protein Industries Canada. The company has raised a total of $13 million so far.
The three-year-old company is in waters that have recently become crowded as startups around the world enter a market expected to be worth $1.6 billion within the next decade.
Venture capital has also been flowing into the space — about $178 million invested in the first half of 2022. One of the biggest VC investments in alternative seafood last year was Wildtype, which raised $100 million in a Series B round for its farmed salmon products. Meanwhile, Plantish, Bluu Seafood and ISH Company are also working on salmon alternatives.
“Seafood is a new piece of the puzzle in terms of technology right now,” New School Foods CEO Christopher Bryson told TechCrunch.
looking for technology
Bryson began his foray into alternative seafood about five years ago after selling his company Unata, an e-commerce platform for larger grocery stores, to Instacart. He started looking for his next “big thing” and eventually learned about factory farming and how animals are treated, which he describes as a “life-changing event.”
“Not enough people seem to be worried about it,” he added.
Bryson explained that the startup ecosystem doesn’t reward R&D, so since he didn’t have a product for investors to sample, he turned to an angel investor approach—focusing on early-stage technologies, especially those that haven’t yet been exploited for alternative proteins .
When looking for research to invest in, he found that there weren’t many technologies that dealt with whole proteins, and that very few were focused on seafood. Bryson saw high-moisture extrusion being used frequently, but found that the high heat used was precooking the food and not producing the texture and muscle fibers he was looking for.
“We therefore decided to create a new technique that does not rely on high-moisture extrusion and is better suited for overall cutting,” he added.
What New School Foods is proposing is a proprietary muscle fiber and scaffolding platform to create a whole-cut meat alternative with the same color, flavor, fat, texture and mouthfeel as traditional fish.
Instead of a high-temperature method, its technology relies on a series of cold-based processes to create a product that starts out looking “raw” and, when cooked, turns into flakes similar to traditional salmon.
“All of these cold steps in our process can use off-the-shelf equipment from adjacent industries that use freezing but not for that purpose, which is really important because a lot of things that try to replace extrusion are science fiction and don’t have Expand the infrastructure,” Bryson said. “When we’re talking about feeding the world in a relatively short amount of time, by using off-the-shelf, scaled-up high-capacity equipment, we can feed large numbers of people very quickly and reliably.”
Expansion and production
Bryson intends to use the new funding to continue to focus on research and development; expand the company’s team of about a dozen people, particularly in the area of food scientists; expand its scaffolding technology; and build a research and production facility.
New School Foods broke ground on a Toronto facility last month and will unveil the plan within months, he said.
Meanwhile, the company is planning to sell through restaurants and has launched a chef-only pilot program in North America to kickstart product boards and generate interest as it prepares to distribute the product later this year.
“This year, while we’re developing our salmon product and refining it with restaurants, we’re also building our own production facility,” Bryson said. “We also know the potential of this technology goes far beyond salmon, so we’re not planning Stop there.”