13 May 2023
UMAMI Meats is disrupting the pet food industry with a sustainable and environmentally friendly solution ensuring a safer, cleaner, and higher quality food product. Mihir PERSHAD - Founder & CEO speaks to petzcareindia about UMAMI Meats future plan in pets industry.
1. Can you tell us more about UMAMI Meats and how the company got started?
Mihir Pershad: The inspiration to start Umami Meats came while I was working as a Venture Partner at a venture studio, building companies from university-developed technologies. While in that role, I led the development of multiple companies that were producing disease management solutions for the aquaculture industry, from vaccines to diagnostics to treatments. I recognized that disease posed an existential, long-term threat to sustainably producing seafood to meet growing global demand and that alternative production technologies would be needed to feed 10 billion people while increasing the stability, resiliency, and security of our seafood supply.
From this experience, I decided to start Umami Meats to create the enabling technology platform that would power the adoption of cultivated seafood as a sustainable source of seafood for the coming decades.
2. How does UMAMI's operating system for cultivated seafood work, and what are its main components?
Mihir Pershad: Our solution is a plug-and-play production platform that empowers traditional seafood producers to craft cultivated seafood products that are more sustainable, healthier, and localized to consumer taste. We license a production process (including cell lines, growth media, etc.), machine learning-based automation system, modular plant architecture, and know-how for developing products from cultivated cells. This end-to-end technical solution enables a much broader range of customers to partner with us to scale cultivated seafood worldwide.
3. How does UMAMI ensure the quality and safety of its cultivated seafood products?
Mihir Pershad: We have a strong internal quality and safety infrastructure to ensure product safety and compliance with current and potential future regulations. We are also building R&D collaborations with universities and food testing companies to develop new methods to efficiently evaluate safety of cultivated seafood on the production line. Our team is also in active communication with regulators in Singapore, the US, Japan, and other key markets to seek their recommendations and feedback to ensure we build a robust safety program that will exceed regulatory requirements in every jurisdiction worldwide.
4. What are some of the key benefits of cultivated seafood compared to traditional seafood production?
Mihir Pershad: Cultivated seafood has a range of benefits that we believe will appeal to a range of consumers. We can produce fish that is free from heavy metals, microplastics, and antibiotics yet still has excellent nutrition and flavor. We can locally produce endangered species that are typically expensive and difficult to find, reducing emissions from shipping these fish around the world, preserving biodiversity in our oceans, and creating a stable supply and market price for these species. And we can avoid ecosystem damage and bycatch from industrial fishing practices, enabling consumers to access the fish they want while restoring and rewilding our oceans.
5. What inspired UMAMI to expand into the pet food market, and what are your plans for this new venture?
Mihir Pershad: Pet food is currently a major global consumer of meat and fish and we believe it is just as important to bring sustainable, cultivated fish to the pet food sector as it is for seafood. The US market alone has 163 million dogs and cats that consume fully 25-30% of all calories derived from animals each year. If American pets were their own country, they would rank 5th in the world in meat consumption! We believe that we will not be able to achieve a sustainable global seafood supply unless we can also support this market. We will support the pet food industry with the same model we are currently using: licensing a plug-and-play tech solution to enable the sector to produce a range of cultivated products.
6. How will UMAMI's cultivated seafood be incorporated into the pet food products, and what other natural ingredients will be used?
Mihir Pershad: We are currently working with first partners in the pet food space to learn how cultivated cells will be incorporated into the products. Our partners will bring their own natural and clean-label ingredients (plants, yeast, etc.) into the product based on their own formulation expertise to achieve balanced nutrition and appealing taste for pets.
7. What are some of the challenges you anticipate in bringing cultivated seafood to the pet food market, and how do you plan to address them?
Mihir Pershad: We expect similar challenges to developing cultivated seafood products in that we need to learn what is driving consumer interest in seeking alternatives to existing offerings, how to optimize the nutrition and desirability of the products for pets, and which channels will be best for launching these products. As the technology partner, we work closely with our production and brand partners to learn from their expertise and support their strategy for product positioning and market launch.
8. How do you see UMAMI's pet food products contributing to the sustainability and health of pets, as well as the environment?
Mihir Pershad: As mentioned above, the US pet market alone is the world’s 5th largest consumer of animal meat. We cannot create a fully sustainable future for seafood and meat without developing solutions for the pet market as well. Many of the fish species that are desired in cat food, for example, are increasingly under threat of extinction, including tuna and snapper. We can produce cultivated products from these species that provide what consumers are looking for while protecting ocean fisheries.
Further, cultivated fish is free from heavy metals like mercury, microplastics, dioxins, and antibiotics that are undesirable in pet food. We can ensure a safer, cleaner, higher quality food product by producing cultivated products without these contaminants, increasing consumer confidence in the safety and quality of the products they are purchasing.
9. What are some of the long-term goals for UMAMI, both in terms of cultivated seafood and pet food production?
Mihir Pershad: Our goal is to be the "Intel inside" the seafood industry to allow the world's largest seafood businesses (suppliers, value-added producers) to produce millions of tons of cultivated seafood that help them overcome dwindling traditional supply, meet latent demand, and achieve their climate and sustainability goals. For our partners, we enable full supply chain traceability, localized production, and access to stable, year-round supply without the volatility of traditional fisheries.
10. What role do you see technology playing in the future of sustainable food production?
Mihir Pershad: We believe that new protein has a crucial role to play as part of a sustainable food system that will feed our population for the next century. When wild catch fisheries first began to have supply challenges, aquaculture systems were developed to produce sufficient seafood to meet growing demand. We are now in a position in which aquaculture and fisheries alone will not be able to keep up with demand, especially for endangered species that are challenging to farm.
We see cultivated production as a way to ensure a reliable, local supply of seafood free from contaminants like mercury, microplastics, dioxins, and antibiotics. By creating this stable supply, we can avoid shortages that trigger food insecurity and price shocks in our food system while also producing seafood with a lower carbon footprint that also allows our oceans to heal and recover from the pressures we have put them under for decades. Novel production technologies like cell cultivation are critical to making this future possible.
11. How does UMAMI ensure that its production practices are ethical and sustainable?
Mihir Pershad: We have developed a sustainability and impact thesis and defined metrics that we are tracking to ensure our technology approach and production system are ethical and sustainable. We intend to report on these metrics annually as part of this commitment.
Since we operate via a license and supply model, we are also able to qualify suppliers on sustainability, labor, and other practices to ensure our supply chain is also held to similar standards for our impact metrics. Through our co-label, we also have the ability to ensure that partners who license our production technology are operating their facilities up to the standards that we have set for ourselves.
12. Can you share any exciting new developments or partnerships that UMAMI has in the works?
Mihir Pershad: We have been able to secure some great strategic partnerships with large companies in the food value chain, including Ingredion, Asahi Kasei Corporation, and some of the world’s largest fishing companies and food producers. We have also demonstrated multiple product application prototypes, including a fish ball laksa, Thai-style fish cakes, battered fish tacos, and most recently a whole fish fillet that we co-developed with Steakholder Foods.
13. Any future plans to enter the Indian market in the pet food industry?
Mihir Pershad: We do not have an immediate plan for the Indian market, but we are having discussions with potential partners in seafood and pet food across multiple countries. If we can find a suitable partner with interest making products to launch in the Indian market, we would be quite interested in pursuing that partnership.