SAUDI ARABIA: Vegan prince invests in lab-grown seafood

By Rhona Wells
Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed Al Saud’s firm, KBW Ventures, is investing in BlueNalu, a company working to produce lab-grown mahi mahi fish and bluefin tuna, among other offerings. It is the fourth lab-grown food producer that KBW has invested in so far. “KBW Ventures is pleased to play a role in the largest financing ever for a cell-based seafood company, aligning ourselves with mission-driven businesses that seek to solve the world’s food security issues sustainably,” said Prince Khaled who is a strong advocate for veganism.

BlueNalu aims to tackle the problem of the world’s seafood supply being under pressure by overfishing.

“The global market for seafood is highly vulnerable today and is valued at an estimated $200bn. With strong investor support, our innovative and visionary management team demonstrates a clear value proposition, technology, IP, and a comprehensive regulatory strategy, all of which provide a solid foundation as we move closer to our market launch,” said Amir Feder, Chief Financial Officer.

Global demand for seafood is at an all time high, as consumers are increasingly choosing to eat the extraordinary variety of delicious and nutritious seafood products that exist worldwide. Unfortunately, the global supply for seafood cannot keep pace with this demand, as populations of marine species have halved since 1970. This is due to overfishing, illegal fishing, rising ocean temperatures, acidification, the effects of trawling, and a number of other environmental, social, and political challenges.

At the same time, consumers are looking for more from their food choices. Consumers are increasingly concerned about animal welfare and the conditions in which fish are farmed and caught. In addition, they are increasingly concerned about their own personal welfare, as seafood can be a source of mercury, toxins and poisons; pathogens, viruses, and parasites; micro-particles of plastics due to plastic pollution in our ocean; and a variety of other environmental pollutants.

BlueNalu will be a another option and supplement current industry practice, in which fish are farmed or wild-caught in our ocean.

Interestingly, the vision is not new.In 1931, Winston Churchill boldly predicted that “We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat a breast or a wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium… The new foods will be practically indistinguishable from the natural products from the outset, and any changes will be so gradual as to escape observation.”

The company has identified the technical and business means that will enable Winston Churchill’s vision to finally be realised. They are pioneers in creating whole muscle, cell-cultured seafood products, in which living cells are isolated from fish tissue, placed into culture media for proliferation, and then assembled into fresh and frozen seafood products.

As well as KBW’s investment, BlueNalu has also secured $60m in debt financing from new and existing investors in a move described as the biggest-ever financing in cell-based seafood. The money will be used to open a nearly 40,000 square foot pilot production facility, secure FDA regulatory approval, and initiate marketplace testing. The company began operations in 2018 and is based in San Diego, California.