The Big Idea: Wildtype
Salmon farming has seen a multitude of issues arise with the practice such as overfishing, parasites, micro-plastics, and high fish mortality rates. These problems, according to a report from last year, amounted to~$50bn in costs for the salmon fishing industry between 2013 and 2019. As salmon mortality rates have spiked (largely from sea lice infestations) and overfishing remains prevalent, these problems don’t seem to be fading soon.
Wildtype is stepping up to fight these issues. With continuously growing global food demand and dwindling wild sources of fish protein laying the backdrop, Wildfire has emerged as the front-runner in cell-cultivated seafood. Wildfire is primarily focusing on creating sushi-grade quality salmon that is grown from cells. How does this process work?
It starts with sourcing. The company starts with living cells harvested from pacific salmon. They then use cell-cultivators that replicate the same conditions as those within wild fish. Some specific focuses for the cell-cultivators are temperature, pH, nutrients, and others. The cells are then harvested and seeded into plant-based structures where they develop and mature becoming the salmon that we know and enjoy. No fishing or farming is required. Wildtype doesn’t even need any living salmon beyond the initial sourcing step. The end result is pure, sustainable salmon without any mercury, antibiotics, parasites, or micro-plastics.
Currently, the company has a pilot plant to develop the operation before scaling. That is where the creation is currently taking place. It almost resembles a micro-brewery more than anything else. They even have a tasting room much like a brewery to sample the sushi-grade salmon.
Where does the company go from here?
In December, Wildtype announced distribution deals with Snowfox (which operates sushi bars at more than 1,200 grocery locations nationally) and Pokeworks (which operates 65 fast casual restaurants) painting a clear picture of how Wildtype can expand once manufacturing capabilities get up to speed.
What are the next steps in the development?
I see two steps forward for the company. First and foremost is managing the production and cost to get prices lower. Pushing prices to flat or even lower than traditional salmon would go very far in supporting the product. I picture that coming with greater scale and experience streamlining the production process that I described above.
Secondly, the company has to get FDA approval. It entered into a consulting process with the agency in 2019 but it needs this approval for the restaurant distribution deals to go through. This is a valid risk. Often government red-tape and regulation can slow a company down but achieving this sooner rather than later would be extremely advantageous for the company as they would achieve first movers advantage in this specific product.
Will people want to eat cell-cultivated salmon.
That is a big question. Obviously a large focus into the future will be the marketing and approach in how to bring customers on board to this product. Will people treat this product similarly to how people reacted to plant based meat. That is yet to be seen and another possible pain point for the company. I do think we will see adoption and customers will get on board. With raised awareness about the risks in our global fishing industry through mediums such as news articles or films like “Seaspiracy”, I believe we’ll see a strong reception to this product.
Who are the competitors?
A few smaller venture backed competitors are trying to create other cultured seafood items such as mahi-mahi and ready-to-eat pouches of plant-based tuna. Impossible foods is supposedly working on plant-based and not cell-grown seafood but nothing is immediate there. I think it is important to see the FDA approval come quickly allowing time for Wildtype to get first-movers advantage in this market and really establish the product.
Overall, I believe Wildtype is an extremely exciting position. They have a clear value proposition with a massive market ahead of them. Problems in the fishing industry as they stand now will not be going away soon and Wildtype provides a very tangible solution to the issues of overfishing, pollution, and fish mortality. We can see healthier ocean-ecosystems while also attacking the problems of global food insecurity. Wildtype is poised for strong growth in the future as the company continues to moves forward.