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Chinese vegan seafood startup secures New York seed money

New Singularity prepares to sell microbial fermented shrimp later this year

Bringing down costs will be essential before microbial alternative seafood products take a place at the dinner table. (Photo Courtesy of New Singularity)

BEIJING -- A Chinese startup that develops microbial fermented seafood has raised several million yuan (several hundreds of thousands of dollars) in a seed funding round led by New York-based venture capital fund Lever VC, 36Kr has learned.

New Singularity said it will spend the money mainly on product development.

Founded last year, the startup has developed microbial fermented shrimp and fungus-based mycoproteins. Its products are to undergo improvements before being officially put on sale in the third quarter of this year.

Data from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization shows that 90% of the world's marine fish stocks are overexploited, and the number of marine species have fallen 36% on average.

Founder and CEO Gao Li says her company's substitute meat is made from proteins fermented with microbial strains and falls into the fungus category. The proteins can be used for meat, yogurt and drinking water, or can be used as a substitute for dairy products.

Microbial algae-based proteins can create muscle fibers with a seafood flavor and similar texture to meat. These strains can be used repeatedly, and 14,000 times more bacterial proteins can be obtained compared with original strains. But issues such as high costs and nutrient balance need to be resolved, Gao said.

New Singularity's initial seaweed-derived products were brought to market in July and August, pushing the company's monthly sales to 12,000 yuan ($1,850). The seaweed-based shrimp had a crisp texture but were low in fiber.

New Singularity's development team successfully obtained target strains after screening. This allowed it to develop products that do not contain cholesterol, antibiotics or growth hormones, and reproduced the texture and nutritional value of animal proteins, thereby lowering production costs.

The team said the production of these proteins requires a small percent of the land area and water resources that conventional livestock farming uses. Its greenhouse gas emissions are also a sliver of that of conventional livestock farming.

Moreover, it says protein output per unit area will be 3.6 times higher than that of animal proteins and 1.8 times higher than that of plant proteins.

Gao says the market success of microbial fermented substitute meat depends on costs. In the medium to long term, cost reduction and customization will be key to developing these proteins.

36Kr has interviewed executives from other alternative meat brands, including Hey Maet, Meatless Farm, Starfield and Future Meat Technologies.

While alternative protein is popular, careful consideration should be given to nutritional value and costs, Gao said. As microbial fermented substitute meat is new in China, strain development constitutes a large portion of costs in conducting research in the technology-oriented industry, she added.

New Singularity's development team consists of Gao, experts with doctor's degrees in microorganisms from Jiangnan University and serial entrepreneurs in the food market. All are members of Friends of Green China Tianjin, a marine environment conservation group.

36Kr, a Chinese tech news portal founded in Beijing in 2010, has more than 150 million readers worldwide. Nikkei announced a partnership with 36Kr on May 22, 2019.

For the Japanese version of this story, click here.

For the Chinese version, click here.

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