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The food industry is undergoing a dynamic transformation process, in response to climate change and its dilemmas, BlueNalu co-founder and CEO Lou Cooperhouse says the food industry has really woken up to sustainability because of consumer demand: "Consumers have changed, and they're rising to the challenge by seeking products that tell a story about sustainability." Cooperhouse has worked in the food industry for 35 years, and he has seen the industry evolve; he adds, "Everyone is very excited to make a difference and offer a sustainable solution. The food industry is a very critical sector that will contribute to the continuation of our planet."
Cooperhouse considers plant-based food as the first generation of lab-grown foods and successful one: 'They mimic the sensory attributes of meat with plant-based ingredients and potentially highly processed ingredients,' he adds. Cell-cultured, however, is the one that caught Cooperhouse's attention: "I called it the holy grail; the most fabulous technology ever developed." He also sees cell-cultured as a solution to the problem of the ocean and our food system.
"The food industry is a very critical sector that will contribute to the continuation of our planet"--Lou Cooperhouse, CEO of BlueNalu
Cooperhouse thinks cellular aquaculture is an exciting yet challenging technology. "It's a complicated and time-consuming process, not to mention very expensive.” He adds that while cell-cultured in mammals has been around for decades, the science of propagating fish cells is quite a novel approach. Cooperhouse says BlueNalu is an answer and a transformative solution to the global seafood supply and its associated problems - biodiversity, seafood bycatch, marine degradation from trawls and illegal labour. "When I first learned about the technological advances that could lead to the production of high-quality protein products through cellular agriculture and aquaculture, I realised that cell-based seafood could be a solution and could have the greatest disruptive potential in the entire global protein category due to the benefits that could come from this process," he notes.
BlueNalu claims they are pioneering cell-based seafood and aim to complement the industry's current practice of farming fish or catching them wild from the sea. "We're going to make real seafood products directly from fish cells in a way that's healthy for people, humane for animals and sustainable for the planet," Cooperhouse says. The cell-cultured process begins with the removal of muscle tissue from a fish, after which stem cells are isolated from that tissue, treated with enzymes, and placed in a nutrient solution in a bioreactor- where they proliferate. Cooperhouse says. “We are growing the muscle cells, the fat cells and the connective tissue cells separately.” The concentrated cells from the previous process are mixed with the bio-ink and cut into fillets that can be fried, steamed or marinated as desired. BlueNalu fish comes without a tail, a head, bones nor blood. It is clean-cut seafood that is ready to cook or consume.
He is very optimistic about the products because the seafood industry is very fragile today. One of the challenges BlueNalu faces is mimicking a fish-like texture, the same sensory attributes, taste and perform as the same conventional seafood. For early development, BlueNalu produces bluefin tuna and mahi-mahi - a choice based on what they consider popular with many and not to compete with the local fish industry. "We chose mahi-mahi because itäs typically imported so we can displace imports, build factories and create jobs while also making products that support human health and end animal suffering," Cooperhouse reasons.
BlueNalu secured $20 million in a series of financing in early 2020 and a $60 million convertible note financing in January 2021 - the largest financing in the cell-based seafood industry globally to date. The financing will enable BlueNalu to achieve several key milestones in the coming year, including opening a nearly 40,000-square-foot pilot production facility, completing FDA regulatory review for its first products, and beginning market testing in a number of foodservice facilities across the United States. The company plans to begin launching mahi-mahi later this year, followed by the launch of premium bluefin tuna. Cooperhouse calls BlueNalu his labour of love... while for us, we all look forward to eating fish, guilt-free.
+ Words: Alvia Zuhadmono, Luxiders Magazine
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