With recent reports showing that 78% of consumers are keen to try alt seafood, along with documentaries such as Seaspiracy making a real impact on global consciousness, alt seafood producers such as Wildtype, creators of cell-based salmon, are set for exponential growth as consumers look for more sustainable seafood options.
After recently being announced as semifinalists in the next XPRIZE Foundation Challenge – Feed the Next Billion, Wildtype is one of many companies working on a sustainable alternative to overfishing and environmental destruction. The young startup recently unveiled a new pilot plant in San Francisco to develop its groundbreaking products.
Vegconomist talked with Wildtype co-founder Aryé Elfenbein about how a cell-cultured future could help save our oceans.
Can you give us Wildtype’s elevator pitch?
Wildtype is on a mission to create the cleanest, most sustainable seafood on the planet, starting with salmon. We are pioneering cellular agriculture to grow delicious cuts of sushi-grade salmon outside of the fish, with no fishing or fish farming required. We believe that people should have the option of fresh fish without the harmful metal toxins, microplastics, or antibiotics commonly found in seafood today. With the opening of our new pilot plant in San Francisco, we’re scaling up to bring that option to people very soon.
“people should have the option of fresh fish without the harmful metal toxins, microplastics, or antibiotics”
You have recently opened your first cell-cultured seafood pilot plant, what will this development mean for Wildtype?
It means that we’re prepared to scale along with the growing demand for cultivated seafood. Our new pilot plant allows us to be nimble in our innovation and flexible in our scaling. That kind of innovation and scale will help us bring Wildtype to market faster. Additionally, our tasting room will serve to reconnect people with where their seafood comes from – something that has been lost as we’ve industrialized conventional seafood production.
What feedback have you received so far from consumers for your sushi-grade cell-cultured salmon?
We’re tasting Wildtype salmon with chefs all the time and the feedback has been extremely positive. In sushi preparations, it scores equally as conventional salmon across flavor, texture, and aroma. It’s really exciting to watch chefs taste our salmon side by side with conventional salmon and struggle to tell the difference. And it’s very early days; we’re really just getting started.
“In sushi preparations, it scores equally as conventional salmon across flavor, texture, and aroma”
To what extent can innovative companies like Wildtype help protect our oceans and marine ecosystems?
First and foremost, we can help protect our oceans through the creation of delicious alternatives to conventional seafood. We’re providing consumers with a third option for seafood, beyond wild-caught or farm-raised fish, which can have an increasingly untenable environmental impact. Consumer education is another area we can make a difference. We know our communities are healthier when people can make informed decisions about their food, when they know about common contaminants or environmental impact, and when we remove barriers to accessing healthy food. We believe this translates across the global seafood industry. Finally, we believe we can create change through advocacy.
We’re advocates for ocean conservation and food security, and continue looking for ways to make a difference with our partners, colleagues, and future customers.
What would you say to critics of cell-cultured protein production, who may harbor doubts in terms of price and scalability?
We are as ambitious as we are pragmatic, and those traits have guided the design of our new pilot plant. We know we’re not where we need to be yet, that this is going to be a long journey. We expect our pilot plant to both dramatically increase our scale and bring down costs. Our ultimate goal is to make Wildtype salmon an affordable option for everyone.
What comes next for Wildtype?
This fall we’ll be opening our tasting room, which is attached to our new pilot plant. We’ll be hosting tastings of Wildtype salmon and introducing the culinary world to cultivated seafood. We have a waitlist on our website to sign up and be among the first to try it.