Portfolio Spotlight: Atlantic Sea Farms

Portfolio Spotlight: Atlantic Sea Farms


In Part Two of our June blog series dedicated to the opportunity of Ocean-Based Investing (click here for Part One), we’ll be spotlighting one of Third Nature Investments’ portfolio companies – Atlantic Sea Farms!

Our global food system is at a breaking point. According to estimates compiled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by 2050 we will need to produce 60% more food to feed a world population of 9.3 billion. Nearly a third of the global population - 2.4 billion people - don't have access to adequate nutrition, and more than 810 million don't have enough food all together.

The problem is, our earth’s land-based natural resources are already over-expended. Mental images you may have of massive stretches of fertile land and water are now illusory – we’ve largely tapped our available resources. And if we continue to try to use the remaining natural stock we have, it will lead to exponentially worse environmental effects, such as soil erosion and runoff, which can cause algae blooms and nutrient overload in our water systems. 

Simply put, with shrinking arable land and increasingly dire levels of groundwater availability, a precarious crisis is quietly unfolding in front of our eyes: we are losing our ability to feed ourselves, and in the process of trying to, we are destroying our planet.

To protect our finite terrestrial resources and feed our people, it is imperative that we find alternative, sustainable food sources.

A compelling solution is (literally) hiding in plain sight. The ocean represents 71% of the planet – yet, it currently only produces 2% of our food supply. Seaweed specifically offers an incredibly nutrient-rich food, and farming this highly regenerous crop can not just alleviate strain on terrestrial resources – it can bolster ocean and human health, help lobstermen and coastal communities preserve their working waterfront, and address climate change.

Enter Atlantic Sea Farms.

 

Bri Warner holds an armload of freshly harvested kelp.

Atlantic Sea Farms: Feeding people & improving coastal livelihoods

Founded in 2009 and headquartered in Biddeford, Maine, Atlantic Sea Farms is a vertically integrated, woman-run, mission-driven company and the market leader in line-grown seaweed cultivation and product development in North America. They are establishing a burgeoning market, crafting irresistible, widely available, and acclaimed seaweed products through a unique supply chain that delivers benefits to people, the planet, consumers, and ensures profitability for all involved parties. Atlantic Sea Farms is led by CEO, Briana Warner – a former diplomat in the U.S. Foreign Service, returned to her Maine roots – who has dedicated her life to this purposeful work.

Its vertically-conscious, innovative business model works up- and downstream. Knowing that fishing families are the lifeblood of coastal communities, Atlantic Sea Farms takes pride in fostering close, mutually beneficial relationships with farmers. Their business model starts by recruiting and training partner fishermen farmers. Atlantic Sea Farms produces kelp seed in their state-of-the-art cultivation center, which they then provide for free and guarantee purchase of the harvest to farmers. The team closely assists partner farmers throughout the growing season and harvest. They then process the kelp and manufacture a delicious set of products - including sea-veggie burgers, kelp condiments, fermented products, kelp smoothie cubes, and ready-to-eat kelp - which are then distributed across grocery stores, restaurants, and ingredient supply chains around the country. Their products are currently available at 1700+ retail locations, including major retail partners such as Sprouts and Whole Foods, and was recently recognized as a recipient of Whole Foods' Supplier All-Star Awards for 2023. Over the last five years, they went from around 30,000 pounds harvested in a single season to nearly one million pounds, and from five partner farmers to 40 partner farmers along the New England coast.

Farmers collect seaweed.

“Good food should do good”

Contrary to the popular business models that dominate our economies and are built on exploitative practices, Atlantic Sea Farms has designed an enterprise that is resilient, regenerative, and restorative to its core. Atlantic Sea Farms believes in a simple mantra: “Good food should do good.” The company drives economic, social, environmental, and human health benefits.

From an overall market perspective, global seaweed harvest is projected to reach more than $30B by 2025. Currently, Asia accounts for nearly 98% of total seaweed production. With clean water and robust fishing communities in places like Maine and Alaska, the U.S. has a massive business opportunity to innovate, expand the market, and create a thriving edible seaweed industry stateside. 

On a more local level, the economic and social impact of seaweed is even more significant. Our oceans are warming at an alarmingly rapid pace, placing coastal communities in the U.S. and Canada at heightened dependence on increasingly fragile wild fisheries. By training fishing communities to farm kelp - which is grown complementarily during the off-season for lobstering, providing the opportunity for previous seasonal labor to be full-time positions - Atlantic Sea Farms is helping diversify income of fishing families, bolstering coastal economies, while increasing resilience in the food system.

From an environmental perspective, the benefits of farming kelp are numerous. For one, carbon dioxide is absorbed by the ocean, which increases ocean acidity and thereby damages shellfish ecosystems. Because seaweed absorbs carbon (faster than even trees!), kelp can reverse some of the effects of acidification, which improves water quality and can benefit other sea life (including leading to stronger mussels, shellfish, and phytoplankton). Additionally, kelp absorbs excess nutrients (from agricultural runoff or industrial dumping), which helps combat harmful algae blooms that can actually suffocate marine life. Further, unlike much of the terrestrial agriculture we cultivate for food, kelp is regenerative and grows very quickly, requires minimal resources (such as land or freshwater), and doesn’t require the use of feed or pesticides.  

Finally, kelp offers immense benefits to human health. A nutrient-rich superfood, kelp helps regulate metabolism, improves heart health, reduces inflammation to support gut health, and helps lower blood sugar.

With sustainability built into their business model – and by working in partnership with the ocean – Atlantic Sea Farms is proving that companies can be economically viable whilst restoring the environment. By leveraging kelp as the base ingredient for delicious food products, they are driving meaningful climate action, diversifying food systems, improving ocean health, alleviating pressure on terrestrial resources, bolstering coastal economies, and creating entirely new and profitable markets. They are a shining example of the great opportunity that lies in ocean-based investing!

Be on the lookout for Part Three of our Ocean-Based Investing series, in which we’ll be spotlighting Sway!

 

[Header photo by Matt Cosby; other photos courtesy of Atlantic Sea Farms]