Sustainability and the future of our planet have become more important topics of conversation than ever before, particularly when it comes to the food we eat. For those of us who love seafood, it can be difficult to know which options are truly sustainable and ethical. That's where Mihir Pershad, founder of UmamiMeats comes in, pioneering a new approach to seafood that not only promotes sustainability, but also delivers exceptional taste and quality. Whether you're a seafood lover or an advocate for sustainable food systems, this Delivery Rank interview is sure to be both enlightening and inspiring.
The inspiration to start Umami Meats came while I was working as a Venture Partner at a venture studio, building companies from university-developed technologies. While in that role, I led the development of multiple companies that were producing disease management solutions for the aquaculture industry, from vaccines to diagnostics to treatments. I recognized that disease posed an existential, long-term threat to sustainably producing seafood to meet growing global demand and that alternative production technologies would be needed to feed 10 billion people while increasing the stability, resiliency, and security of our seafood supply.
From the first day, our goal was to develop technology solutions that would enable cultivated seafood to become a global source of healthy, affordable, and delicious fish for consumers worldwide. In the early days, we started with development of cell lines from endangered species of fish and the medium to grow them in. Through conversations with customers, our approach has evolved into providing a complete plug-and-play production solution to food producers to empower food producers to easily adopt our technology to make a range of cultivated seafood products.
Our target customers are traditional seafood producers and food manufacturers, including companies that catch, process, brand, market, and distribute fish products. We aim to empower these producers to adopt cultivated seafood production technology as an alternative to traditional production methods, especially for species of fish that are endangered in the wild, not suited to commercial farming, and facing growing demand. This includes prized species like Japanese eel (unagi), red snapper, grouper, and bigeye tuna.
Developing cultivated alternatives for these prized species can be particularly challenging because consumers have high expectations for these products. We have been working closely with food scientists and chefs with deep expertise with these species to ensure we meet these high requirements and create products that consumers will love.
We are working with our customers and traditional food producers to develop a consumer education strategy. Currently, our technology is still under development and we don’t have any products on the market. As we continue to progress toward the first products in the market, we plan to launch consumer education initiatives that include information about sustainability and human health benefits of cultivated fish.
Our initial research has found that consumers across markets rank attributes like taste, price, healthiness, and sustainability differently in terms of impact on purchasing decisions. For early markets, we will conduct deeper research to understand what consumers in that market value most and will focus communications around these attributes. This will be a long-term journey of educating consumers about cultivated production overall in addition to the particular benefits and impact of our model of production.
Cultivating animal cells at a large food scale has never been done before, let alone fish cells, so there is quite a bit of novel science and development that we have to complete to bring our production technology to a meaningful commercial scale. One of the early challenges we faced was developing fish cell lines that could produce muscle and fat, capture the same nutrition and flavor as the original fish, and do these things at large production scale. To achieve this, we had to establish the first mesenchymal stem cell line from fish and develop a screening pipeline to test for rapid cell growth, efficient production of muscle and fat, and preservation of desirable flavor and nutritional profiles.
I think the most important thing is to have deep empathy for the problem your customer has and to have a clear thought process for how you can solve that problem for them. In our case, this started with understanding which species are difficult for traditional producers to supply in sufficient volumes and that consumers are also having trouble accessing. We then researched the market dynamics for these species to identify a small number that we wanted to develop initially and identified the customers who we could work with to ensure we develop products that can solve a real problem in the market.
If you would like to find out more about UmamiMeats, visit https://umamimeats.com/