IndieBio alt-seafood startup Sea & Believe recently developed what could be the first plant-based whole cod filet to flake just like real fish. With a focus on Irish seaweed and microalgae, the female-led team is researching and collaborating with universities and food technologists to create plant-based seafood that’s close in taste and texture to the real deal.
We talked everything seaweed with Founder Jennifer O Brien.
How and why was Sea & Believe born?
Growing up in Ireland, I suffered from chronic asthma and spent most of my life managing symptoms while missing education. I remember taking a seaweed bath in Enniscrone, Co. Sligo, Ireland, and experiencing incredible relief from my symptoms. I knew then that there was something special about Irish seaweed and started incorporating it into my diet.
I spent several years working in financial services and investment banking, however, the inspiration of Irish seaweed never left me, along with a love and passion for food and sustainability. So, when it was finally time to strike out on my own, I knew exactly what kind of business I wanted to start. I was still suffering from Asthma in my 20s and when I switched to a plant-based diet as an experiment, my symptoms completely dissolved. Now for the first time in my life, I do not rely on any medication.
What is your company mission?
The global plant-based seafood market is worth more than $900 million, however it still only represents 1% of the entire market. The Sea & Believe mission is to become a market leader taking 10% of the market next year. With a strong marketing campaign with expansion planned in the coming months across Europe and US, we aim to lead the path of sustainability through innovation and sustainable ingredients.
“we aim to lead the path of sustainability through innovation and sustainable ingredients”
The signature product will be launched in eight months through our extrusion partners in Germany and Canada, the long-term mission after the signature product is launched will be the development of innovative products such as fish nuggets and fish bites for children.
What is your current business model?
Sea & Believe’s long-term plan is to develop a range of products in the plant-based seafood space in conjunction with our partners – Clextral, Wageningen, LIT and GFI. The team will be headquartered in Ireland but based globally to support the R&D and sales operation in different geographical regions.
We are building a successful team of food scientists, technology specialists and leaders to execute, working on finding a group of people with the right mix of professional skills, fostering a strong sense of teamwork. The focus is on team culture and building a highly productive team that can communicate, cooperate, and innovate in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect while operating in a global market.
Tell us a little about Irish seaweed and why it is crucial to Sea & Believe
Sea & Believe is preparing to build the first-ever seaweed farm in Ireland to utilise this resource and supply products all over the world. Ireland is known for having the best seaweed in the world with perfect conditions, depths, and currents for growth and is the most sustainable plant on earth, yet it is still an underutilised resource.
“On our doorstep we have available in abundance this amazing aquatic ingredient that imparts a natural umami ocean flavor”
Irish seaweed, including Irish moss specifically, is one of the best plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids. These fats are critical for a healthy heart. In fact, getting enough omega-3 fatty acids is connected to a lower risk of heart disease, blood clots, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, so seaweed was an obvious fit for the development of plant-based seafood. On our doorstep we have available in abundance this amazing aquatic ingredient that imparts a natural umami ocean flavor.
Seaweed is packed with essential nutrients, amino acids, and proteins. It is an antiviral, full of Omega 3’s, and is an excellent source of protein. It is so diverse that seaweed isn’t the same even within Ireland. The seaweed harvested in the north is very different from that from the south. The texture and taste are quite different. After evaluating seaweed across Ireland, I chose County Sligo in the northwest due to the incredible ecosystem.
The waters are pristine, infused with the limestone from the mountains which fertilises the water and the seaweed there has that distinctive spray of the ocean that you don’t find anywhere else.
You’ve recently developed a plant-based cod product, how does it differ from other alt fish products on the market?
Sea & Believe identified a whitespace in the market for plant-based whitefish. Fish & chips is a dish traditionally found on menus across Europe and the US, so we have reverse-engineered the cod’s muscular structure using a combination of techniques such as extrusion and gel formation. The ingredients which we are using provide a unique combination of the nutrients present in a real cod and offer the same level of protein.
“we achieved our goal: a cod-like product that flakes like real fish. We are the first company in the world to achieve this”
The R&D was in conjunction with Wageningen University, Clextral, Teagasc and Limerick Institute of technology. The project consists of an advisory support of world-leading scientists in the field of technology, ingredients, and formulation of fish analogues, and a professional sensory panel. After six months, we achieved our goal: a cod-like product that flakes like real fish. We are the first company in the world to achieve this.
How close are you to securing your recent $3 million funding target? What will the funding signify for the business going forward?
We have secured half of our funding target and working towards securing the remaining 3 million in the coming weeks.
Which segments and markets will Sea & Believe focus on over the next two-year period?
The initial launch will potentially expand to Austria, Switzerland and food service in the US. Our outlined demographic will be more focused in the urban areas of Europe and therefore to maximize this opportunity and would propose launching into the more populous zones. Germany’s vegan sales grew to €1.9m and 63% of Germans have tried to reduce meat consumption, so it offers market potential for us as well as a great opportunity to manufacture our products, taking into consideration the geographical location it provides an opportunity to expand easily into other geographical locations.