Cultured Meat and Future Food is a short-form podcast series discussing the role of plant based food, cultivated meat and food technology. The show is focused on asking industry leaders questions for an audience with a non-scientific background. Cultured Meat and Future Food is targeted towards entrepreneurs interested in the food technology space.

Doug Grant of Atlantic Fish Co.

Doug is the co-founder and CEO of Atlantic Fish Co. Their Raleigh, North Carolina-based team is using cellular agriculture to address the problem of carbon-intensive, overfished species. Prior to AFC, he co-founded two other startups and covered the alternative protein industry for three years as the host of the “Brave New Meat” podcast, interviewing entrepreneurs, investors, and thought leaders in the space. He has an MBA from Georgetown University focused on entrepreneurship. Prior to the private sector, he served for 10 years as a helicopter pilot in the Navy.

Alex: [00:00:00] Thanks for joining us on the cultured meat and future food show. We’re really excited to have Doug grant of Atlantic Fish Co. on the show today. Doug, welcome to the show!

Doug: Hey, it’s great to be here.

Alex: Doug. I’m really excited to dig into many different topics especially since you are a fellow podcaster yourself, but before we even get into that. Tell us a little bit about your background. 

Doug: Yeah, absolutely. Pre podcast. It’s, it’s, like I said, it’s, it’s great to be on. And I know we initially got engaged through podcast, but my, my background was in the Navy for, for 10 years.

I was a helicopter pilot relocated here to DC with the Navy and Got really interested in tech and startups and I’ve been involved in a couple other startups. Nothing to do with food, nothing to do with biotech but things with like software and healthcare. And then ultimately got interested in cultivated meat.

And here we are. 

Alex: Very cool. Did you say helicopter pilot? [00:01:00] 

Doug: Yeah. Yeah. I was in the Navy for 10 years. So I was, did most of my operational work out in San Diego. We were talking about before we started recording lived out on the West coast for, for several years before relocating here. 

Alex: Wow. Cool.

Okay. And I, and I’m sure that. The Navy fleet helicopters are very different, but I have heard that flying a helicopter is one of the most difficult things you could fly. Is that true? 

Doug: Yeah. I mean, they train us really well. But yeah, I, it is, it is difficult to, to fly. You get used to it after a while though, it’s kind of funny thinking about going back to plan.

They first train you on a plane and then they transition you over to helicopters. So actually going back to a plane would have probably been. It’s been harder for me. But yeah, I, I loved flying helicopters. It was, it was 

Alex: awesome. Wow. Okay. And I guess, would you ever want to, or do you have the opportunity to ever like do it recreationally?

I haven’t, 

Doug: You know, I’ve been out since [00:02:00] 2013 and my, that was my last flight was on a, landed on an aircraft carrier in the, in the Persian Gulf. And that was it. And then came back to the States and kind of always thought I might get back into some recreational flying. But it’s really expensive. And I think it would just be, I don’t know, kind of, kind of a step down, like in terms of what you’re flying, you know, it’s kind of like having a you know, a sports car and then, and then transitioning back to.

To something that’s not a sports car. So 

Alex: Toyota Yaris, 

Doug: so I can say that. You don’t know who who’s got what out there, but yeah. Yeah. So I never, I never really gotten back into flying since then. I think I was, I definitely knew I needed to find the next act in my life, which, which that’s probably what led to this a little bit.

Loved it, but, but knew I didn’t want to do it for my whole career. You know, doing a full 20 plus years in the Navy. 

Alex: Wow, cool. Well, thank you for your service. And, you know, I, I wanted to, you know, you said you moved to D C. You started a podcast about cell cultured meat, brave new meat. How did you first hear about cultured meat?

And what was your motivation to say, Hey, I, I want to do this. 

Doug: Yeah, I think it was around 2019 and there was an article in Rolling Stone magazine about Upside foods you know, there were still Memphis meets back in the day and I was just fascinated at this from a Technology perspective, you know, I was a lifelong meat eater I never really considered where my food was coming from, you know, I had some like vague notions about cows and climate but Just didn’t really look under that hood at all.

But I, I, I did think this was like pretty amazing, amazing technology and, you know, I was always kind of looking for, you know, what’s, what’s around the corner, you know, I’m a, I think a techno optimist at heart and started digging into it. But I had recently started a, a new job and I was like, okay, I can’t go to deep into this.

But then Covid hit. Everybody’s at home and you know, I read Paul Shapiro’s book, clean me, and I was also listening to your podcast and, you know, I got to thinking more and more about it. And, and I said, you know, I want to get. I don’t know if I’m ready to dive all in yet and like make this my career, but I want to be involved.

I want to learn more. So cold reached out to Paul. He very graciously decided to be my first guest. And that’s what led to brave new meat. So it was a, a COVID lockdown project that really started changing my. My views on the world personally with what I eat and then also just professionally, you know, where I wanted to put my energy going forward.

Alex: Wow. That’s cool that you said you first learned about it through a Rolling Stones article, because, you know, I saw that on the Atlantic Fish Co website, Atlantic Fish Co is featured in, in Rolling Stone is that right? 

Doug: Yeah. Yeah. Well, we, we, we, we had a write up. Yeah. So that was very full circle. I remember I got the call.

So we did the indie bio accelerator and I’d been up in New York for our demo day. And then like the next week they, they asked me to come back up. They said, Hey, they’re going to feature a few of our portfolio companies in this article. And I was like, yes, I’ll get the next train up, you know? So I didn’t even know if like I was going to get in the article at all, but they were very, very cool.

And we got in and that was a very full circle moment for me, you know, like, Oh, wow. We read about this technology or I read about this technology and in Rolling Stone now, here I am getting a a little bit of coverage in the magazine. So, yeah, that was a very serendipitous full circle type of moment for me.


Alex: Okay. So, so you, you. So with the podcast, you didn’t want to go too deep into the field yet. And then COVID hit and when was it that you realized, okay, I’m going to do this and I’m going to do this with fish and it’s going to be Atlantic Fish Co. When, when was that realization? 

Doug: Yeah. Yeah. So, you know, [00:06:00] I had started a couple of companies before and you know, Wasn’t sure I wanted to make that level of commitment, you know, so I was like, okay Do I want to try to join one of these companies like this is what I really care about Started coming to more conferences, and I don’t even know if you remember this But I came out to CMS and I was like man I hope this guy’s gonna be cool about me to another podcast on this And you were very gracious and very nice and I introduced myself.

I don’t even know do you remember that 

Alex: I I remember, was that, I remember you asked the question before we, we, we met in person. Is that right? Yes. Yes. I remember. Yeah. 

Doug: But I was, I was like, Oh man, I hope this, I hope this goes over well. So I was, I was nervous to meet you, but thanks for being cool about everything.

And yeah, so I think I started going to conferences and I was just like meeting more and more people. And you know, I was like, okay. I think I really see a lane to, to start a company here. You know, with something that, that other folks aren’t doing. And I still felt like we were really, really [00:07:00] early.

So, you know, despite there being some other, other companies that raised a lot of money and you know, I felt like we were just still had a niche that we could, we could pursue and And specifically with seafood. So that’s the beginning of Atlantic Fish Co, which initially was just a beta name.

We had to put something on the, on the paperwork. And then I was like, okay, so far we’re going to keep that. So as of now we’re, we’re still Atlantic Fish Co and I think it it resonates with where we are and what we’re focused on with, with wild caught marine species. 

Alex: I, you know, I do like the name and there’s something about.

Fish code that, that, you know, some, you know, when it ends in fish code that you just think of kind of like a fresh kind of like kind of like a small seaport or, or bay town or, or something like that. So I dunno, I like the name. I hope, I hope you stick with it. So what does, let me rephrase, what does Atlantic fish go do differently?

Doug: Yeah, so I think there’s a few ways to answer [00:08:00] that. So first with product also with technology and then strategy. So I’ll start with product. So we are focused on white flaky marine species. You know, I think there’s some companies that are doing excellent stuff with salmon and tuna and shrimp.

And those are, you know, perfectly large, you know markets for them to pursue. makes a lot of sense. We didn’t want to try to compete there, but we did see a lot of white space with white flaky fish. So that’s where we wanted to focus on from a market perspective. And then also fish that can’t be grown very well in aquaculture and then also very carbon intensive.

So we really want to replace fish that are caught via trawling, which a lot of people don’t know because seafood kind of gets a pass as more. carbon friendly, climate friendly animal protein. But that masks the reality that a lot of trawling caught species are almost as carbon intensive, if not more so than beef.

So [00:09:00] from a product perspective, that’s where we wanted to start. From a technology perspective we really wanted to use bioengineering. I feel like a lot of people and maybe, you know, just with their technology stack, this works, but people were like. We’re not genetically engineering. We’re not GMO.

We’re not, you know, doing any of these things. And there’s this belief that there is going to be more consumer acceptance for cultivated products. You know, in my opinion, you’ve already crossed the Rubicon if you’re, if you’re making cultivated meat or seafood in terms of getting that adoption, like the technique of, is it been genetically engineered or not is sort of, you know, Not the thing at that point.

So, you know, we just didn’t want to fight with one hand tied behind her back. So we’ve really doubled down and are very, you know, focused on using genetic engineering from a, from a technology perspective. And then lastly, from a strategy you know, when I was doing, and I know you’ve had a lot of these.

These guests on as well. There are so many companies coming in now that have B2B strategies. So people are doing different pieces of the tech [00:10:00] stack. And in my mind, it was just crazy to try to go full stack with this. It’s just a lot of really hard problems. And that’s great. You can say, Hey, we own all of the IP and we’re full stack.

But that just didn’t seem like the way to go. So, so we have found partners, you know, our core technology is around cell line development and that’s, that’s really where we’re, we’re focused. That’s our wheelhouse. And then we want to work with other partners and, and to get products to market faster.

So, you know, strategically we’ve just really doubled down on, on partner strategy. And I, I think that’s, that’s been different. 

Alex: Very cool. Okay. And, and very good point on the. You know, the, the bioengineered or, or GMO kind of, you know discussion here because somebody who’s going to be looking for non GMO corn or non GMO carrots or whatever, they’re, they’re not even going to be considering something like cell cultured meat, even if it is not GMO.

Right. I think, I think, yeah, I 

Doug: mean, I just, I just try to like imagine the future. I’m like, who is this [00:11:00] person that is like. Picking up a cultivated product in, you know, whole foods and, you know, five to 10 years and they’re like, I’m totally on board with this. But it’s genetically engineered, so I’m not going to buy it.

Like, I I’m just very skeptical of that. I mean, I think we already just as an industry have to be like really transparent with any kind of cultivated product, but if they’re already there, like considering purchase, like, I don’t know, I, that just seems, I don’t know. That just seems very unlikely to me that that’s going to be the, the deciding factor of if they’re going to make a purchase decision or not.

Alex: And another thing you mentioned is that you’re working on, I think you said white flaky fish. And what I’ve what I was, I don’t know who it was. I was speaking to somebody and I was talking about how it’s, you know, flaky. And I think they were a non fish eater. They’re like, Oh, it’s flaky. That’s terrible.

But actually flaky is what you want when it comes to fish. Right. And, and so maybe, can you describe what that flaky texture is that you want to have in fish? 

Doug: Yeah, and, and, and just sort of white fish in general, maybe maybe the broader category, right? Because I, I think when people sit down, if you’re going to have tuna, right?

Like that’s a very specific experience. And if you’re thinking about, especially like sushi, or if you’re thinking about salmon, right? Very particular flavor profile texture, color. You know, the Atlantic salmon where they color it with the different dyes to make it look pink even though that’s not the actual color.

You know, so we’re focused on, on whitefish and a lot of those fish are, are truly flaky. So if you think about something like come from. Mississippi down on the Gulf Coast. You’ve got things like snapper or grouper. We also got some flounder. We’ve also been looking at Atlantic sea bass and halibut.

Halibut maybe not as flaky but definitely still in that whitefish category. A lot of these are interchangeable. You know, it’s what’s in season, what the, what the restaurants are able to get during [00:13:00] that quarter where it might not be in season or is, or is a reasonably priced for them where they’re, you know, they’re super price sensitive.

So there’s a you know, we’re not seeing it as pursuing one species, but this whole category, you know, and, and I think that that texture of, of white flakiness, you see that in Bronzino a lot. That’s super popular in restaurants here in DC. I think Bronzino has really come around a lot in other parts of the country as well.

You know, that fits into that category and it’s just because it’s available year round with Bronzino that it’s really thrived so well because they’re able to farm it. So that’s, that’s the segment that we’re focused on. And 

Alex: you, you mentioned that I guess aquaculture is pretty carbon intensive. Why is it actually carbon intensive?

Doug: Well so I was referring to trawling as, as really carbon intensive. So this is, this is species caught via bottom trawlers in the wild. Those are, those are what we’re really trying to displace. We actually don’t want to compete with fish that [00:14:00] are already caught in aquaculture. I think that’s just one extra.

Competitive challenge that is unnecessary at this point when there’s, there’s such a wide open white space for for seafood species. 

Alex: I see. Okay. And, and trawling is when you go out on a boat and try to catch fish with a net. 

Doug: Yeah. Dragging it across the bottom. So there was a recent paper in nature that was describing this of all the sediment being released.

So the ocean acts as a huge carbon sink. So approximately like 30%, I think of all. Carbon that we emit right now is, is captured via the ocean. So it’s a, a huge carbon sink for us. But by disturbing this sediment with trawling, this nature paper pointed out up to 1. 5 gigatons of CO2 being released into the water.

And then it’s a little bit unknown about how much of that is that then released into the atmosphere, but you know. Effectively, you’re, you’re subverting our carbon sink which is not good right now with, with climate change. So we want to focus on [00:15:00] fish that are caught via that technique. So just for a little context, 1.

5 gigatons is equivalent to all of global air travel. So we’re, we’re talking about a pretty huge amount of carbon that’s getting stirred up from trawling techniques. 

Alex: Wow. Okay. Interesting. And I guess, 

Doug: Yeah, the cows get all the cows, right? There’s a, there’s other species out there that we’re eating that have a, of a really intensive carbon footprint.

Alex: Very interesting. Okay. So, so you. You joined IndieBio, was that, you know, how long after you kind of started Atlantic Fish Co, did you join IndieBio? 

Doug: Yeah, we, we shopped this around as two guys with a pitch deck for a while. And, and, you know, it was like, you know, trying to, trying to get things going and, and then very fortunate that we got accepted into IndieBio.

This was in the, the New York, there’s been several companies in our industry that have gone through the program on the West coast in San Francisco.[00:16:00] So we were really excited to get to do this. This was really a catalyst for us. We plussed up our team, you know, we’re able to go full time.

And then I know we talked about this when we were up in New York and right around, started IndieBio, I became a father. So it was kind of a crazy time of balancing a first baby and also going through the program. But. Somehow managed to survive, but it was it was great for us. Like it really, really opened a lot of doors and, and made us much more like rigorous and disciplined, I think with, with our approach to, to develop in the company at this stage.

Alex: And who are your co founders and how did you get introduced to them? 

Doug: Yeah. So we have three full time folks right now myself and Trevor ham. Trevor is our CSO. He leads our lab, lab operations. We actually met Trevor put out a, an application for a job just for a tissue engineer. And, and we didn’t really intend it to be a co founder job.

But you know, [00:17:00] he. Wow. This guy’s like super qualified and you know, said, Hey, you know, do you want to just lead our science operations? And he was like, yeah, let’s do it. So jumped all in. And then RJ Savino also a North Carolina guy. So Trevor’s. Also a North Carolina guy which is where our lab operations are down in Raleigh.

He did his master’s in the lab of Paul Mosiak. So Paul previously at a piece of meat, which was required by stakeholder foods a couple of years ago. So RJ’s kind of grown up with a, with a SELAG pedigree and has been, you know, involved in this throughout his master’s. So Yeah, that’s, that’s rounds out our, our team.

Alex: Wow. Cool. Okay. And, and so earlier we were talking about the different approaches that, that companies, cellular agriculture companies are taking, whether they’re doing full stack or, or B2B, you know, what. You know, Atlantic, what is Atlantic fish code doing? And other than the white flaky fish, what will be kind of your initial go to market?[00:18:00] 

Doug: Yeah. So our view on this is that you’ve got to start with hybrid products. Something that’s hybrid and something that’s unstructured. But also with that, and this is another reason for seafood, we just felt starting with this technology going after chicken nuggets or hamburger was going to be really, really difficult.

You know, this is assuming any new product that comes to market, you’re in this technology adoption life cycle where you’ve got to have some people willing to pay a premium, right? And I think that’s just so much easier if you start with seafood. So our first demo product is a hybrid. Deep fried fish nugget.

So it would be part plant based part fish based. We’re gonna do initial demo with that targeting by the end of this year and then from there, you know, getting feedback, we’ll figure out what our first go to market product will be, but it will definitely be something that’s, that’s unstructured and hybrid.

Still TBD on which of those fish species it will be. We’ve got several sell lines that we’re working on right now and, and whichever is the [00:19:00] best horse, the fastest horse wins and we’ll go, we’ll go with that. 

Alex: Cool. And I guess in terms of where the startup is at, you said that at the end of this year, you might have some sort of sample.

Where are you at from a fundraising perspective and, and kind of what’s next for Atlantic Fish Co. 

Doug: Yeah. So we are in the middle of our precede. We have raised obviously from Andy bio that I mentioned, and we’ve got some other investors that have come on board sustainable food ventures which is invested in a lot of companies in our space and, and a few angels as well.

And we’re continuing to raise that precede looking to that to take us through the end of 2024. And then Hopefully get through this this very tough time for startups with the economy and everybody worried that there are recessions right around the corner. But I feel like they’ve been talking about that for 18 months and it, and it hasn’t happened.

So hopefully we’re on the upswing is inflation’s coming down here 

Alex: now. You interviewed [00:20:00] different folks that are in the industry before starting Atlantic Fish Co, a lot of those challenges that companies had, or maybe the, the one thing that people always said was the biggest challenge for the industry that might have has, you know, might has, might have changed over the last few years.

Tell us a little bit about that and also what challenges your team are are currently facing. Yeah, 

Doug: so I think it’s kind of like whenever you’re at a conference or talking to anybody about this, like how long can you go before someone says the word scale? You know, it’s it’s it’s generally not that long.

It could be a drinking game, but I think right now, you know, initially companies were coming in and saying, Hey, we’re working on a different species. Right. And, and, and that was our initial case, right? We were, we were a business case. We weren’t founded on a core technology. You know, we’ve developed the technology.

After the business case I think that’s just a higher barrier right [00:21:00] now, right? Like, you know, people want to see that this can actually scale and this can actually you know, make a big dent in the huge problem of animal protein, right? So there’s always a trade off there, right? Should they, should we be more focused as a, as an industry or should investors, you know, put more of their capital into plant based or fermentation solutions?

You know, versus going after cultivated meat, which is, you know, raised a lot of money and then we’ve now got a couple of companies in market, which is great. But like, we really need to see more of that. So I think the, the. The bar has getting higher 

Alex: Now that you’re working with a team to grow cells and scale the technology yourself. How do you feel about how some of the other companies are promoting how far they’ve come in however amount of time?

Do you think that we can, you know, we’re, what we’re seeing is, [00:22:00] you know, 50, a hundred, 2000 liter plus scale. Do you, you know, how, how do you feel about that? 

Doug: We’re early right now, right? We’re, we’re at at bench scale as a, as a pre-seed company. But I want to see those companies, you know, talking about larger and larger scales because that proves that this is technically feasible, right?

And, and that makes sense that the technology is maturing and we’re getting into, into larger and larger bioreactor systems. So yeah, I, I, I don’t see it as much as a, as a competition in the market. You know, maybe a competition for, for finite investor dollars is, is where the competition is at, but yeah, overall I’m, I’m cheering them on, you know, I want to see, you know, more of these products going at a larger and larger scale so that they’re available because like, you know, I always think about in the future.

Let’s say Atlantic fish co is successful and we’ve got our product on a menu at a restaurant if it’s this [00:23:00] Weird one off thing that people have never seen before and it’s you know one thing on a menu That’s harder for us. I think than if there’s several other Cultivated products, even several other cultivated fish products on a menu, right?

If somebody is feeling tuna that night, you know, they, they get their sushi. Maybe they want to whitefish the next night. Right? So I want these companies to be successful. I hope, you know, every scale that people are talking about is real because, you know, if there’s more of these things out there, people are going to be more likely to try them not just one time, but be repeat purchasers.

And that’s, that’s really what we need. So Yeah, I hope they hit all those scale marks. 

Alex: I love that. So you can learn more about Atlantic Fish Co at Atlanticfish. co and Doug will be speaking at the cultured meat symposium coming up in Las Vegas on November 2nd and 3rd. Doug, I wanted to ask you, do you have any last insights for our listeners [00:24:00] today?

Doug: Oh gosh. The insights questions. Let me, let me think. I don’t think I do. Yeah. 

Alex: You know, that’s totally fine. You know, it’s funny because every time I asked, I asked that, I think, wow, like we’ve been recording for 27 minutes now. I’m thinking, how did 27 minutes go by that fast? Yeah. Yeah. So awesome. Well, thanks so much for, for joining us on the show. I’m really excited to see where Atlantic Fish Co is, is, is going.

And and you know, I’m really excited for when you, your team has the first tasting. 

Doug: Alex, thanks so much for having me on. This was great. I’ve listened to your show over the years a lot. It’s, it’s kind of strange to be on this side of the, of the mic, interviewed for, for one of these and, and in particular here on, on your show.

So this is, this has been awesome for me. And, and, and thank you so much. I really, really appreciate 

Alex: This is your host, Alex, and we look forward to seeing you on our next episode.