Revealed: Why Branch Venture Group invested in Cultured Decadence

Cultured Decadence is an early-stage start-up developing cell lines to produce lobster meat without the animal
Cultured Decadence team in its facility in Madison, Wisconsin

Branch Venture Group, the sister company of foodtech summit Food Edge, is among the handful of early investors in Cultured Decadence. The US-based start-up closed a pre-seed funding round last week totalling $1.6 million. Headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, Cultured Decadence will use the capital to produce lobster meat without the animal. The financing follows important technical progress in the development of novel lobster cell lines and the reduction of cell-culture media costs.

Co-founded by food science professional and investor Lauren Abda, Branch Venture is a Boston-based investment network interested in high-growth food-related businesses. The company evaluates foodtech start-ups working on plant-based or cell-cultured foods, as well as ingredients and technologies to transform the food supply chain.

Issues in the seafood supply chain

“We were excited to connect with Cultured Decadence and work with co-founders, John Pattison and Ian Johnson, as we evaluated the opportunity,” said Branch Venture Group in a statement that outlines why it invested in the company.

Branch Venture Group explained that the crustacean supply chain has some serious problems. It also noted that global warming and increasingly acidic oceans negatively affect the wild catch of all seafood, and noted that fossil-fuel intensive harvest methods have an outsized impact on the environment.

The company said that oceans absorb 90% of global temperature increases, which have caused fisheries to migrate further from land to deeper and cooler waters while these changes in the ocean environment can cause more variable yield in fisherman’s catch. Governments have also instituted regulations that limit supply.

Despite the shortcomings in the supply chain, the nutritional benefits of a seafood-rich diet are being recognised driving increased consumer demand and awareness.

The lobster market has not been immune to these trends – it feels them even more dramatically as lobsters are not able to be grown by aquaculture farming techniques. Moreover, 50% of the catch is thrown back today due to size requirements to protect the breeding stock.

Cultured Decadence: The team

Chief executive John Pattison and chief science officer Ian Johnson co-founded Cultured Decadence last year, and today Cultured Decadence is a team of four.

The start-up is aiming to eliminate supply chain inefficiencies and waste by focusing on producing the end product – lobster meat. The meat itself will be fresh, traceable, and sustainable while also being mercury and plastic-free with a similar great taste and comparable nutrition to wild-caught crustaceans.

Pattison and Johnson have extensive experience working on cell-cultured meat, which is why they decided to tap into the category.

Pattison was the director of operations at New Age Meats, a cell-cultured meat company focused on pork. He joined the board of directors of New Harvest, the non-profit research institute dedicated to advancing cell-cultured meat technologies.

Co-founder and chief science officer Ian Johnson reviews proliferation of lobster cells

Johnson is a veteran of the US Army and received his MBA from NYU Stern. He served as senior scientist at Finless Foods, a cell-cultured meat company focused on bluefin tuna. Prior to Finless Foods, Johnson worked at two clinical stage companies giving him experience with the FDA.

The entrepreneurial duo also works with leading institutions such as the University of Maine and the Lobster Institute as well as the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to help develop their crustacean cell culture.

Lobster meat market opportunities

The market size for lobster meat in the US is estimated to be roughly $20 billion and consists of whole meat products as well as added ingredients and flavouring for products such as fishcakes, raviolis, and bisques.

Due to the limit on supply via government regulations, this market size is primarily attributed to the high price point of lobster meat – it can cost anywhere from $50-75 per pound.

One of the biggest scepticisms today of cell-cultured meat production revolves around its ability to produce products at a cost equivalent to conventional products.

Cultured Decadence’s focus on high-value crustacean meat can allow them a faster path to profitability compared to other cell-cultured meat companies who are focusing on lower-priced products such as poultry or beef.

Branch Venture Group is attending Food Edge online summit on 4 and 6 May. The event will bring into the spotlight hot topics in food science and innovation as well as sales and marketing. Register to attend.

Note: This article is an edited version of a blog by Branch Venture Group and published with the permission of the author.