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Woman-founded startup Sea-Stematic is the first food tech dedicated to cultured seafood in the African continent and it has ambitious plans to become a global supplier helping to meet the fast-rising demand for fish in Asia. Headquartered in Johannesburg, the South African company and its team of scientists are racing to develop and bring what founder Marica Quarsingh describes as “honest products” to the emerging cultured protein market.
Sea-Stematic was born when entrepreneur Marica Quarsingh pivoted from her “Mermaid X” energy efficiency project amid Covid-19 to focus on a new frontier where she believed was going to be a big business opportunity with a real sustainability impact – cell-cultured protein. Seeing the interconnected issues of overfishing, climate change, disease outbreaks and strained natural resources, Quarsingh saw that consumers would be pushed towards more sustainable and ethical products to meet their protein needs.
There are already a number of plant-based alternatives for meat on the market – be it chicken, pork or beef. But one area that still remains a nascent category, despite many more fishless plant-based products landing on the market in recent months, is alternative seafood.
Quarsingh says that cell-cultured seafood will be an important addition to help solve the unsustainable demand for fish, which is growing at unprecedented rates globally as more consumers are currently displacing red meat with seafood for perceived health benefits – many of them unfounded, given the rising rate of infections and overuse of antibiotics associated with farmed fish and the issue of bioaccumulation in wild catch.
Seafood has a very big market, especially in Asia. Globally, less than ten companies are working on cultivated seafood.Marica Quarsingh, Founder & CEO, Sea-Stematic
Much of the demand is centered in Asia-Pacific, which is expected to drive nearly three-quarters of the projected 21% growth of the seafood industry in the coming years. And right now, very few cultured protein companies are working on seafood.
“Seafood has a very big market, especially in Asia,” the founder told Supertrends in a recent interview. “Globally, less than ten companies are working on cultivated seafood. There is lots of space for everyone. We are out to collaborate, not compete.”
Among the handful of players in the space include Singapore-based Shiok Meats, Hong Kong’s Avant Meats, U.S. food techs BlueNalu, Wildtype, Finless Foods and Cultured Decadence, and Berlin-headquartered Bluu Biosciences.
Johannesburg-based Sea-Stematic represents the first cell-cultured seafood startup on the African continent. “We are committed to satisfying the global consumer demand for fish, while addressing broader climatic and health issues through our company’s position,” says the firm on its website.
“Our integrity to deliver great tasting, quality and nutritionally superior cultivated fish and seafood products is further defined in partnering with leading scientists and expert stakeholders to achieve this sustainably.”
At the moment, Sea-Stematic is hard at work with its team of scientists to begin developing its range of cell-cultured seafood, but hasn’t released any details on definitive types of seafood products it plans to focus on.
We are committed to satisfying the global consumer demand for fish, while addressing broader climatic and health issues.Sea-Stematic
Quarsingh says they’ve “brought in the scientists who have the necessary know-how, and we also brought in the human element”, and are now looking to build a reputation as an “ exciting company that delivers honest products” to the world.
While Sea-Stematic is the only cultured seafood firm, it isn’t alone in the cultivated protein space on the continent, with fellow South African startup Mzansi Meat launching last year as the region’s first cell-based meat company set out to produce slaughter-free minced beef, burgers, nuggets and cuts tailored to traditional African cuisine.
At the time, co-founder Brett Thompson said that one challenge is “figuring out how to overcome the consumer barriers” as cultivated protein is still a vastly new concept. But Thompson was clear that the food tech intends to turn this obstacle into an opportunity.
“We have the benefit of the fact that cultivated meat is not known in Africa and South Africa, so people have not had a chance to build up their defences yet. Therefore, this flip side that not a lot of people know about cultivated meat is, at the same time, an opportunity”.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.