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Akua, the startup behind the kelp-based vegan burger, is set to expand its plant-based range with crab cakes and ground meat after securing $3.2 million in a seed funding round. The New York-based food tech will also be using the funds to grow its team and marketing as it looks to capture the clean label and whole foods trend.
Akua has raised $3.2 million in a seed funding round, led by California plant-based investors Vibrant Ventures. Others joining the round include Pegasus Sustainable Finance, Alumni Ventures Group and angels such as Courtney Nichols Gould, the CEO of SmartyPants, and skincare mogul Cristina Carlino of Philosophy fame.
The latest round brings Akua’s total funding to date to $5.4 million. Co-founders of the startup, Courtney Boyd Myers and Matthew Lebo, also participated in the fundraising. The news was first reported by TechCrunch.
Growing the kelp range
Akua, which debuted the world’s first kelp burger earlier this year, says it will be using the funds to grow its range of kelp-based vegan alternatives. So far, the brand offers Kelp Jerky, which comes in four flavour varieties, as well as Kelp Pasta, in addition to its flagship burger product.
The New York startup uses ocean-farmed kelp, a highly-nutritious and renewable algae that absorbs carbon as it grows and helps to prevent ocean acidification. For its vegan burger product, Akua combines kelp with other whole food plant-based ingredients like cremini mushrooms, pea protein, quinoa, black beans, and tomatoes. It is 100% vegan, gluten-free and soy-free.
With the new funds, Akua plans to double down on R&D and begin churning out more kelp-based alternatives, including ground or minced meat product, as well as a kelp crab cake. The crab cake is slated to launch in mid-2022.
The capital will also go towards making new hires and spending on marketing to grow its sales. Currently, Akua’s products are available via its direct-to-consumer website and in various retail outlets and restaurants in the US.
Clean label trend
One of the reasons why the founders of Akua believe their products are poised for growth is because of the clean label trend. While plant-based meats have become hugely popular in recent years, some have shied away from alternatives due to long ingredient lists.
“The first wave of plant-based eating was the Boca Burger, beans, and tofu. The second wave is Impossible and Beyond, and the third wave is going to be the return to whole foods and clean eating,” Bond Myers told TechCrunch. “We are only as great as the giants that came before us, and if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today doing a better plant-based burger.”
The demand for cleaner ingredient lists has even prompted the “second wave” of food techs to change their recipes, like Beyond, who has launched its third iteration of the Beyond Burger with significantly less fat and calories. Spanish vegan chicken pioneer Heura has also positioned itself as one of the cleanest brands on the shelves today to tap the trend, using only a handful of ingredients and relying on olive oil rather than saturated fat-heavy coconut oil.
Akua uses 15 ingredients in total for its kelp-based burger. Jarret Christie, the founder of Vibrant Ventures, says that the combination of Akua’s whole-food approach and unique use of kelp makes it stand out in the competition.
“Kelp was not on anyone’s radar six months ago, but is now being considered for crop feed, packaging, and crop fertilization,” Christie is quoted as saying.
Other startups that have embraced the whole food plant-based approach have also recently attracted investment, including fellow New York company Actual Veggies. It raised $2.8 million in August for its colourful veggie-only plant-based burgers.
All images courtesy of Akua.