Impact Food

Sustainable food through plant-based seafood

🦄 Unicorner Startup of the Week:

Impact Food

✍️ Notes from the Editors

Today’s article is brought to you by Mercury. Read more below on how to succeed in fundraising in challenging markets.

Look, we totally get what some of you are thinking (especially if you’ve been reading our emails for a while).

“… uh vegan sushi? How is this unicorn material, guys? You’ve never covered food brands before. Much confused.”

One: We’re no stranger to interesting industries. Food is a new (and interesting) space for us. We also had the chance to meet CEO Kelly Pan at our SF Happy Hour in February.

Two: A brand of pasta sauce sold for $2.7 billion last month. So yeah. It’s doable. It’s been done. It will continue to be done.

Enjoy this week’s cover of Impact Food, brought to you by our contributor Sameera Pant.

In other news, thanks to everyone who participated in our referral challenge. Congratulations to Brayden from The Mixup for winning! We wanted to give his newsletter a shout-out: The Mixup is a daily newsletter summarizing the essential news of the day in a 3-minute read. Check it out.

- Arek and Ethan 🦄

Seas the future with plant-based seafood

Impact Food is a food technology company aiming to bridge innovation with ocean sustainability through plant-based seafood that tastes and feels like the real thing without negative environmental consequences.

🔗 Check it out:

💰 Business Model

Impact Food operates on a partnerships-driven B2B model, where the company works with restaurants and corporate dining partners (such as Pinterest and Airbnb) to cultivate dishes that marquee its plant-based seafood.

📈 Traction and Fundraising

  • Raised $650,000 from strategic angel and venture capital funding for pre-seed round in 2022; investors included Future Food Fund, Serpentine Ventures, Gold House Ventures, and the Ahimsa Foundation

  • Debuted its plant-based, sushi-grade tuna at all three locations of Onigilly, a Bay Area Japanese eatery, in March 2023

  • Launched at Pokeworks, a fast-casual poke chain, at its Irvine location in June 2023, with plans to continue the roll-out of plant-based tuna across the U.S. throughout the year

  • Raised a little under $1 million in total and has a full-time team of five, according to co-founder and CEO Kelly Pan

  • Impact is currently raising a seed round; reply to this email if you’d like to be connected with the team

👫 Founders

  • Kelly Pan, CEO: Previously Co-Founder @ Outhrive, Founder @ KHOHA, Social Media Marketing @ Market Games

  • Stephanie Claudino Daffara, COO: Previously Technical Director @ Pixar Animation Studios, Story Tools Engineer @ Pixar Animation Studios, Intelligence Design Lab Research Engineer @ Adobe

  • Adrián Miranda, CTO: Previously Laboratory Operator @ Emerald Cloud Lab, Undergraduate Research Assistant @ UCSF, Editor @ Genius

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📖 Founder Story

In the spring of 2020, Impact Food co-founder and CEO Kelly Pan joined the UC Berkeley Alternative Meats Lab, a product design and entrepreneurship class centered on developing the next generation of foods, such as plant-based meats, dairy substitutes, and alternative sources of fat and protein.

Growing up in a family of small business owners, Pan had already been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug, having worked on a D2C skincare brand and a nonprofit consulting organization. Although she initially joined the class as a foodie interested in learning more about the scientific side of the industry, studying how industrial food production was inefficient and unsustainable sparked her interest in connecting entrepreneurship with solving these problems.

As part of the lab, students were grouped together to complement their skill sets, which is how Pan, an undergrad at the Haas School of Business, met Miranda, a biochemistry undergraduate and Claudino Daffara, a master’s student studying electrical engineering and computer science. The realization that 90% of fish stocks have been consumed by the commercial fishing industry — causing tremendous loss of biodiversity and disruption of the marine ecosystem — led the three to set their sights on finding a way to feed the growing population of seafood consumers while allowing the oceans to thrive. And so, Impact Food was born.

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🔮 Our Analysis

When setting up a consumer-centric B2B company, especially in food technology, it’s vital for a startup to match both the needs of its end customer as well as the businesses it's partnering with. This is something Impact Food has exceeded on both counts, ensuring that both its restaurant partners and diners are satisfied.

On the business side, Impact Food’s flagship product of whole-cut, vegan sushi tuna clearly fulfills a market gap. Currently, there’s less than 3% of bluefin tuna population left, with the species highly endangered and restaurants struggling to match the resultant high demand. In fact, when doing customer discovery as Impact Food was starting out, Pan found that a lot of restaurants had stopped selling tuna because they couldn’t get the supply they needed. Restaurants operate on thin margins, requiring a consistent supply of seafood to meet their diners' needs, and Impact’s plant-based offering proves more reliable than its ocean-based counterpart. Additionally, the company is one of the only food tech companies to sell at parity with actual tuna because of its cost-effective manufacturing process, Pan added.

On the consumer side, out of a desire for being health- and environmentally conscious, more and more diners want vegan and vegetarian options even if they are meat-eaters, Pan said. Impact’s manufacturing technique places customer experience at its forefront, with a unique texturization process that turns a blend of plant-based ingredients spanning pea protein, algae, and vegetable juice into a product that is high fiber, low calorie, and mercury free — something which can’t be guaranteed with real seafood!

Lastly, there’s something to be said about the founding team as well. The trio met right before the pandemic, going from working together in person to remotely juggling Impact with full-time jobs and schooling before incorporating the company in 2021. From being entirely bootstrapped — their first lab was in Miranda’s bedroom — and working with grants and accelerators, to finding themselves in restaurants three years later is no mean feat. After all, how many class group projects end up raising close to $1 million dollars? Impact Food is clearly making waves and we look forward to seeing them continue to seas the market.

📚 Further Reading

Written by Sameera Pant

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