'Clean fish': Finless Foods reports success in slashing production costs for lab-grown products

By Tingmin Koe contact

- Last updated on GMT

Finless Foods co-founders Brian Wyrwas (left) and Mike Selden.
Finless Foods co-founders Brian Wyrwas (left) and Mike Selden.

Related tags: Clean meat, Fishing, Laboratory

Finless Foods' CSO and co-founder Brian Wyrwas says the firm is making considerable progress in slashing production costs for lab-grown fish, claiming "there is continuous progress every single day to get to price parity with Bluefin tuna".

Based in San Francisco, the firm also secured a $3.5 million seed round led by Draper Associates, an early stage venture capital firm situated in California.  

The investment will bring them to the end of their initial R&D phase, giving them the tools necessary to move into production pending the closing of a Series A. 

This development follows after the firm's progress in cutting production costs by 50%​ in September last year. The firm aims to achieve price parity with Bluefin tuna by end of this year.

When the firm introduced their prototype last year, the production cost stood at $19,000 per pound.

One way of reducing production cost is to bring down the amount of nutrient media used, Wyrwas told FoodNavigator-Asia during a presentation conducted by HATCH, the world’s first aquaculture accelerator program.

“One of the biggest cost is the nutrient media. By bringing down the cost of the media, we are able to bring down the cost of the product,” ​he said.

Consisting of salts, sugars, proteins, carbohydrates and water, the media is needed for cells to proliferate. The ratio of cells input and nutrient needed is equal.

“Two cells will need 2X amount of media to form four cells,”​ he explained.

To cut the cost of the media, the firm recycles the media during cell production.

He described that the cells’ absorption of the nutrients can be likened to “kidney filtering”. ​As such, the media could be recycled.

As for commercialisation of their products, he said that they intend to market the products in around 2021, and spicy tuna roll is first on the list for their home market. 

“It really depends what kind of products we are making; certain products may take longer or shorter time,​” he said.

Production cost and scalability are some of the biggest hurdles for clean meat companies.

Wild Type, another firm which is producing seafood, meat and poultry via cell culturing, also said that scaling the processes to support larger production volumes has been a significant R&D focus​ for them. 

Some of the ways include new approaches to nutrient development, different production methods for different cuts of meat, and adapting cells to thrive in high-efficiency growth chambers.

Expansion

Finless Foods is planning to increase its number of researchers by three times by Q1 or Q2 of 2019.  

Wyrwas shared that the company is intending to hire around 10 researchers at the end of this year. 

The team currently has five researchers out of seven staff members, and many have expressed interest to join the team.

The firm received nearly 100 job applications during October to December last year.

“It shows people are really passionate about this, there is a lot of conversation about this and people are really excited to work for start-ups that’s doing something like this. I think this is an industry that is growing very rapidly and more and more money are poured into this industry,” ​he said.

As for expansion into Asia, Wyrwas said that the company is still trying to understand the Asia market, its trends and consumers’ preference.

“(We are) trying to now start a dialogue in Asia and start asking question. The question is, is this something that you are interested in, is this something that you would not only try, but something that you would eat? What is valuable to you when you eat seafood or when you eat fish?“

Wyrwas said that he is currently learning Japanese, while his co-founder Mike Selden, who used to teach chemistry in Taiwan, is fluent in Mandarin, eliminating a language barrier for expansion into Mandarin-speaking markets.

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