Plant-Based Burgers and Pasta
Consumers have spoken. And their message is clear: meat is out, plants are in.
Increasingly, consumers are turning away from meat and gravitating toward plant-based meat alternatives. That’s why, according to CNBC, the market for plant-based alternatives is already worth $20 billion a year, and expected to surpass $23 billion by 2024.
AKUA is targeting this trend with its line of plant-based foods. It uses ocean-farmed kelp to make plant-based jerky, pasta, and burgers. Its vision is to create a platform of clean-label meat-alternative products.
Though it only launched in 2019, AKUA has already made substantial progress. Its food creation process was named one of Time Magazine’s Best Inventions of 2019. And the company was named one of Fast Company’s “World Changing Ideas for Food in 2020.”
Furthermore, the company has already raised capital from investors including the CEO of Blue Bottle Coffee, and venture funds including M13, which is an investor in Lyft, Snapchat, and Ring. Its products are available in more than 40 states nationwide. And its customers include Sir Richard Branson.
Upon trying its product in 2017, Branson said, “I was prepared to come up with a nice response after eating this, but actually, it’s really rather delightful. It’s incredibly delicious. Well done.”
The shift to plant-based meat alternatives is a major trend. And it’s involved everyone from startups, to professional investors, to the world’s biggest meat companies.
In the startup world, two success stories take center stage. First, there’s Beyond Meat. This producer of meat alternatives launched about 10 years ago, raising $2 million at a valuation of about $10 million.
Today, Beyond Meat is a publicly-traded company worth nearly $8 billion. For investors in that early round, that translates to 800x their money.
Second, there’s Impossible Foods. Early on, this alternative meat startup raised funds at a $40 million valuation. But by last year, it was valued at $4 billion. Investors in that round are now sitting on profits of 100x.
These profits have captured the attention of professional investors. As Fast Company recently reported, in the first half of 2020, investments into meat-alternative companies reached $850 million. That’s more than the total amount raised in all of 2019.
Then there are large companies in the meat manufacturing industry. Many of these businesses have started meeting demand for plant-based alternatives. For example:
• In spring 2019, JBS, the world’s largest beef producer, unveiled a plant-based version of its burger.
• That summer, Smithfield Foods, another meat producer, launched its own “meat-free” range of items.
• And Nestle acquired Sweet Earth, a plant-based food company, in September 2017. Two years later, it launched the “Incredible Burger,” made from 100% plant-based ingredients.
As mentioned, AKUA creates plant-based meat alternatives with ocean-farmed kelp. According to the company, kelp is the most sustainable source of food on the planet.
Its first product, Kelp Jerky, is made from kelp, shiitake mushrooms, pea protein, and “superfoods.” It comes in four flavors: Sesame & Nori Salt; Rosemary & Maple BBQ; Hibachi Teriyaki; and Spicy Chili & Lime. Each flavor of jerky has 10 grams of fiber, 10 grams of protein, and 70% of a person’s daily requirement of iron.
Kelp Pasta is essentially kelp cut into noodle shapes and dehydrated into tangles. This makes it easy to eat kelp in its purest form.
AKUA’s latest product is the Kelp Burger. The company is raising capital from individual investors to market this product and increase sales.
The Kelp Burger is a plant-based burger that’s non-GMO, non-processed, and “chews like a meat burger.” According to AKUA, burgers are the fastest-growing segment in the frozen plant-based meat sector.
In March 2020, AKUA held a tasting party in New York City for its burger. Since then, it’s sold a “beta” version of the product to select consumers at a discount. This is in an effort to receive product development feedback. The company has sold 2,000 burgers and has seen repeat purchase rates close to 50%, with zero spent on marketing or ads.
In October 2020, AKUA chose Honeybee Burger to be its first restaurant partner. This Los Angeles-based restaurant chain helped launch the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger, and now serves AKUA’s Kelp Burger named “The Sea Bee.”
More recently, AKUA launched its burger in 12-packs sold direct-to-consumers for $36.99. The company has two distributors — one on each coast — to sell its burger in grocery stores. One distributor sells $800 million worth of chicken, beef, and seafood. AKUA’s burger is its first vegetarian food option.
Down the road, AKUA aims to create additional foods such as Kelp Nuggets, Kelp Sausages, and Kelp Crabcakes. To further establish a market for its foods, the company is working with a network of nutritionists and doctors. It’s also partnered with Chelsea Kauai, an ocean advocate and social media “influencer” with more than 1 million followers on Instagram.
Courtney is an entrepreneur, environmentalist, and journalist. She has been recognized as one of Fast Company’s “Most Creative People in Business.”
Prior to starting AKUA, she was an advisor to GreenWave, a supply chain business focused on ocean farming. Before that, she was an advisor at Recent, a technology-focused fund investing in companies in the climate, healthcare, and education industries.
Earlier, she worked for Sustainable Ocean Alliance, a global organization of startups dedicated to protecting the oceans. Prior to that, she was a writer for Thrive Global, a publication geared toward science-based solutions to enhance mental health and well-being. She also wrote freelance pieces for tech- and finance-focused outlets Wired and Forbes.
Courtney earned a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from James Madison University.
Matt formerly ran a consulting business for consumer product companies and food companies.
He specialized in R&D and financial consulting, and consulted for several food-related startups including DADA Daily and KROMA.
Before that, he was a research analyst with Piper Jaffray, an investment bank. He focused on equity research and internet-related services. He began his career as a senior analyst with Ipreo, a financial services company.
Matthew earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Ursinus College.
Eve was AKUA’s first employee, and has extensive experience with startups.
Most recently, she was a digital marketing manager with Taika, a food & beverage company selling coffee. Before that, she was a community manager with INSCAPE, a health and wellness company.
Earlier, she was a marketing consultant with Steward, a consumer goods company selling houseplants. She began her career in marketing with VINAYA Technologies, a London-based consumer electronics company.
Eve earned a degree in Media and Communications from NYU.