Tuna without the mercury and fish burgers without the fish.
That’s what Gathered Foods, 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, Minnesota-based company notched a big win last May when Beyond Meat, the first startup it ever invested in, went public with huge success.
The ultimate goal for 301 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,” John Haugen, managing director of 301, said.
Good Catch will use the funds 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. 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 chief executive.
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 a plant-based protein, he said. Its products are made from six types of legumes — peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans. Algae oil, or algal oil, from sea algae gives the products a fishy flavor as well as the DHA omega-3 fatty acids that many 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, like 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 its 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, though it recently announced plant-based yogurt. 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.