Tuna without the mercury and fish burgers without the fish.
That's what Gathered Foods Corp., a startup firm that developed plant-based seafood, is selling — and General Mills has decided to help.
301 Inc., the venture arm of General Mills, and a handful of other venture capitalists are investing more than $32 million in a Series B funding round to help New York-based Gathered Foods with its Good Catch brand. The Golden Valley-based company notched a big win in May when Beyond Meat, the first startup it ever invested in, went public with huge success.
The ultimate goal for 301 Inc. is to find brands that General Mills could eventually acquire. "I can't speculate where this one will end. From where we are today, it's early, but it's a remarkable product with a brand that can become a platform for expansion," said John Haugen, managing director of 301.
Good Catch will use the money to build a new production plant and expand the brand across three continents.
The vegan products are some of the first seafood alternatives to bubble up in the fast-growing plant-based foods space. The investment also solidifies 301 Inc.'s role as the conduit through which General Mills tests the plant-based marketplace.
Demand has soared for plant-based burgers from firms like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, but few companies have attempted to make seafood from plants.
Unlike many other food startups that begin in a founder's kitchen, Good Catch was started by serial entrepreneurs and impact investors who were looking for a vegan seafood company to invest in. When they couldn't find one that matched their criteria, they started it themselves, said Chris Kerr, Good Catch's CEO.
The team spent a year and a half focused on the "mouthfeel" of its shelf-stable tuna product, which is the hardest part of emulating an animal-based protein, he said. Its products are made from six types of legumes. Algae oil, or algal oil, from sea algae gives the products a fishy flavor and the DHA omega-3 fatty acids consumers associate with seafood.
Good Catch's first product is a shelf-stable albacore tuna alternative that has been rolled out in three varieties to nearly 5,000 stores. In early June, it plans to launch frozen entrees, such as plant-based fish burgers and crabcakes.
"Seafood is considered to be a healthy alternative to meat," Kerr said. "The problem is it comes with a lot of collateral damage. Tuna has mercury in it. Odds are it has microplastics."
The startup highlights the nutritional similarities between their products and real tuna and the absence of microplastics, microfibers, mercury, GMOs and dairy — good news for vegans and pregnant women, who are told to avoid foods with high levels of mercury. The founders also point to the strain on global fisheries as another reason to consider alternatives.
General Mills isn't a protein company nor a plant-based food company, but more than half of 301's investments have been plant-based foods, like No Cow protein bars and Kite Hill, a dairy alternative brand. 301 was also an early investor in Beyond Meat.
"We do have the opportunity to lead the company in exploration of these emerging spaces," Haugen said. "… Consumers are moving [toward plant-based] for a number of reasons. It's certainly not our only focus at 301 Inc., but it is one of a couple we think is really important."
Haugen sees some similarities between Good Catch today and Beyond Meat six years ago when 301 invested in it. Back then, meat analogues made from plants were unknown to most people.
"What I think is vastly different is awareness of plant-based solutions compared to six years ago," Haugen said. "We have a whole new generation of consumers who understand they can have great-tasting products that fit their food values. In some ways the road has been paved for consumers to accept it. People aren't as familiar with the stresses on the sea [as they were with industrialized meat production] and I think that's a story you will start to hear more about."
Good Catch plans to use money from this large investment round to complete construction on its 42,000-square-foot production facility near Columbus, Ohio. The funding round was led by Stray Dog Capital and Rocana Ventures and includes Almanac Investments, CPT Capital and New Crop Capital.