Japan’s Largest Fishing Company to Fast-Track Lab-Grown Fish via Seafood 3D Printing Firm Investment


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Maruha Nichiro (TYO: 1333), Japan’s largest fishing company, has announced a strategic investment and collaborative partnership with Singapore-based Umami Bioworks (formerly known as Umami Meats) to develop and commercialize cell-cultivated seafood in Japan and potentially other markets. This collaboration marks the first time a Japanese seafood firm has partnered with a foreign company specializing in cellular agriculture for seafood production and additionally sets the stage for Umami’s ventures into 3D printed seafood to reshape how consumers view alternative seafood products.

Maruha Nichiro will access Umami’s cell cultivation development and manufacturing platform as part of the collaboration to develop and commercialize cultivated seafood production in Japan and beyond. This partnership includes a strategic investment by Maruha Nichiro and a comprehensive research collaboration to accelerate the path to cultivated seafood commercialization in Japan and the world.

Maruha Nichiro suggests, “Umami Bioworks has successfully developed prototypes of cell-cultivated seafood products through their proprietary technology. They actively engage in activities such as exhibitions and tasting events to enhance awareness of cell-cultivated seafood. Cellular agriculture is an emerging industry, and for Maruha Nichiro, promoting consumer understanding is as crucial as establishing the technology as we work towards creating a new market.”

Umami wants to bring consumers cultivated Unagi, Red Snapper, and Tuna. Image courtesy of Umami Bioworks via LinkedIn.

The collaboration comes at a critical time for Japan’s seafood industry and global marine ecosystems. Over the last three decades, Japan’s domestic wild-catch volumes have declined by roughly 65%, causing its seafood self-sufficiency rate to drop to a concerning 55%. Worldwide challenges like overfishing, marine pollution, microplastics, and the introduction of heavy chemicals only make matters worse, presenting significant risks to consumers, fishermen, and Japan’s economy.

Against this challenging backdrop, Umami sees Japan as a key market for cultivated seafood. Japan is not just the world’s third-largest seafood market but also a place where seafood consumption is deeply rooted in daily life. In 2021, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries reported that the average citizen consumed an impressive 23.6 kg of fish and seafood, placing Japan among the top five globally.

Toyosu, the globe’s premier wholesale fish and seafood market, lies at the center of this industry. Umami claims that a transformative change in the seafood industry must be deeply rooted in its key institutions. Engaging with producers, wholesalers, and traders at Toyosu, Umami seeks to understand and address the unique challenges and needs of the Japanese market while setting a global standard for quality, flavor, and environmental responsibility.

Cell-cultivated seafood emerges as a sustainable alternative. Global investment in cellular agriculture reached $2.8 billion in 2022, and through this partnership, Maruha Nichiro aims to establish Japan’s foothold in this niche market. The company’s investment promises will help fast-track Umami’s development and contribute to building the infrastructure necessary for the commercial production of cell-cultivated seafood in Japan.

Both companies aim to work on multiple strategies, with a particular focus on raising fish that are at risk of extinction. The money from Maruha Nichiro will speed up Umami’s plans to set up a research and business team in Japan. For Maruha Nichiro, this partnership gives them another way to produce seafood sustainably, adding to their existing fishing and fish farming methods.

Umami has created an automated system for growing seafood without fishing, avoiding ocean pollution like mercury and microplastics. Mihir Pershad, the CEO of Umami, said the partnership is a big step toward sustainably feeding the world’s growing population. The companies plan to offer consumers tasty, healthy, and environmentally friendly seafood options.

“Our seminal partnership with Maruha Nichiro, a global leader in crafting beloved food products, is a pivotal step in achieving our mission of addressing the challenge of feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental impact,” explains Pershad. “We have the development and production technology, but we require experienced partners with global reach that can help us manufacture and deliver cultivated products to consumers. Through collaborations with industry leaders like Maruha Nichiro, we can leverage our technology expertise to support the co-development of delicious, nutritious, and appealing consumer products that secure a healthier and more sustainable food future for the world.”

Umami Bioworks to scale sustainable food production in Malaysia. Image courtesy of Umami Bioworks.

While this latest partnership with Maruha Nichiro focuses on human consumption, it is worth noting that Umami has also been making strides in other sectors. Last week, Umami launched its inaugural commercial product—a cultivated cat treat under the Marina Cat brand by CULT Food Science. This unconventional move is a well-sought strategy. Pets, especially in wealthy nations, are major consumers of meat and seafood.

A 2017 University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) research highlighted that “had pets been a nation, they would be ranked fifth in global meat consumption.” Most fish caught for pet food is good enough for people to eat. This creates competition between humans and pets for the same resources. Marina Cat Treats aims to solve this problem by offering healthy and eco-friendly options suitable for cats who naturally need to eat meat.

Entering the pet food market is part of Umami’s bigger plan to lead in different arenas. The brand plans to start making Marina Cat treats in late 2023 and launch them publicly in 2024. This is a stepping stone to their main goal: introduce high-quality lab-grown seafood to restaurants by early 2025.

Umami Biowork’s commercial product partnership with CULT Food Science. Image courtesy of Umami Bioworks.

While Umami sets its sights on disrupting pet food and restaurant markets, it’s also making headway in another groundbreaking area: 3D printed seafood. Last year, Umami teamed up with Steakholder Foods (formerly MeaTech 3D) to declare their intention to produce 3D printed seafood, with initial focus areas being Japanese eel, red snapper, and yellowfin tuna. Then, January 2023 saw Umami receive a $1 million grant from the Singapore Israel Industrial R&D Foundation to develop 3D printed eel and grouper products as a team.

Umami Bioworks and Steakholder Foods create the world’s first ready-to-cook 3D bioprinted cultivated grouper fish filet. Image courtesy of Umami Bioworks.

Umami has a broad plan that includes working with big fishing companies like Maruha Nichiro, making pet food, and partnering on 3D printing projects. With a clear goal to solve the growing problem of seafood sustainability, they are laser-focused on providing seafood free from harmful substances and not at risk of extinction. Through these efforts, they are serving consumer needs and helping ensure a more sustainable and healthier future for our planet.

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