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Sustainable Fish Jerky Sails Uncharted Waters

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September 1, 2020

Washington Maritime Blue, the Port of Seattle, and WeWork Labs have partnered to launch Washington’s first maritime accelerator to help maritime companies innovate and grow. New ideas in one of the most traditional sectors in Washington are critical for a thriving economy and to protect our planet, precious natural resources, and ocean life. 

This series showcases the 11 companies participating in the inaugural cohort. These companies worked for four months out of WeWork Labs’ Seattle location with mentors and advisers to help navigate challenges. In April, the startups shared their innovative solutions in a Virtual Showcase.

After a successful career in marine science and sustainable aquaculture research, Nick Mendoza left the sea for New Mexico, dreaming of finding a way to directly impact global food system sustainability and food waste. Mendoza planned to turn his grandparents’ New Mexico cattle ranch into an ecologically managed Farm-to-Table beef jerky operation. But one day, while at work on the ranch, he decided to change course. He realized there was a way to infuse his love of the ocean and background as a marine scientist into this vision of sustainable food — by developing his own sustainable fish jerky product.

Today, OneForNeptune seafood jerky uses fresh, sustainable, natural ingredients to deliver a healthy, delicious, and convenient snack to eco-conscious adventurers everywhere. The name refers to a nautical ritual where a ship captain gathers his crew to offer congratulations and thanks to all before setting sail. It begins with a ritual toast to Neptune — the protector who grants safe passage across his realm. With reverence, the captain pours the first drink into the sea.

Nick fishing.

Test kitchen

Once Mendoza decided to embark on a sustainable seafood voyage, he got to work in his home kitchen testing different seafood species, examining different tastes and sustainable supply chain options.

“My background is in science, not in consumer products. I have no background in food, so this aspect was a challenge,” he said. “At the beginning of the research and development process, we looked at the taste and texture attributes that customers wanted, while focusing on addressing their pain points with seafood.”

Mendoza tested a variety of sources and species before deciding to use U.S. wild caught Rockfish. With his background and connections in sustainable fishing, he was able to source the fish from small West Coast fisheries. He then refined the jerky in Portland at one of the top food labs in the country and later partnered with a commercial manufacturing facility south of Seattle.

Nick cooking in Santa Fe.

Under the sea

“Seafood is ‘out of sight out of mind’ for most of the public,” Mendoza said, citing a fragmented supply chain as the reason for many of the seafood industry’s challenges.

OneForNeptune’s business model targets inefficiencies in the seafood supply chain, meaning that the growth of the company has the direct effect of decreasing seafood waste and underutilization. This model uses undervalued cuts and fillets directly from the producer that would have otherwise gone to waste.

“We are using the exact same product that ends up at a white tablecloth-restaurant; we are mitigating waste that happens in seafood supply chain,” he said.

Jerky has a lower carbon footprint than seafood in the fresh and frozen supply chains and is also significantly less susceptible to spoilage, where most seafood loss occurs.

Nick Mendoza with fish.

Uncharted waters

Even though the development of his product coincided with a massive market shift away from eating red meat, Mendoza found that the world of seafood jerky was still an emerging business. With 500 U.S. beef jerky brands on the market and just a handful of fish jerky brands, Mendoza found he was embarking into uncharted waters.

“Traditionally seafood has been missing from the snack food category,” he said. “People aren’t always sure what fish is sustainable to eat or they are afraid to cook fish entirely.”

Mendoza founded OneForNeptune with cofounders Garrett Delgado and James Coop in fall 2018; today the team of eight works remotely, but Mendoza and the manufacturing operation are based in Seattle. They began as an ecommerce business, but they have been growing into retail markets, are currently in 70 retail stores, and are pursuing broader national distribution into stores like PCC and Whole Foods.

Nick and Garrett Founders

The brand’s target customer is between the ages of 25 and 40, socially and environmentally conscious, works in technology, camps every weekend, and is interested in the health attributes of seafood.

“Our sustainable seafood snacks are a convenient and trustworthy way to eat more seafood,” he said.

Maritime Accelerator

Mendoza decided to apply for the Maritime Accelerator program to connect with like-minded startups. He said he was impressed by the curriculum and speakers that were part of the programming, covering topics like investor relations, content marketing strategy, and legal considerations.

“It’s funny how many things seemed to line up; the timing was good with the evolution and progress of our business. I was impressed with the diversity of the startups.

Every company has a different path, but at its core, strategies for growing a business are the same. As a cohort we were able to co-evolve, and the staff cared about us and did (and still do) a lot to support us.”

A program like the Maritime Accelerator that nurtures startups, leverages Seattle’s entrepreneurial environment, and new businesses in front of investors is critical to the future of the maritime industry, Mendoza said.

“As an entire group of industries, maritime businesses fly under the radar and don't attract as much investment. A program like this in a hub like Seattle is important and valuable to the maritime industry. It’s a sign of leadership and a proof of concept and brings attention to these important industries.”

Beach fishing

Welcome aboard

Currently, Mendoza and his team are finishing a brand refresh (with a rename to Neptune), a fresh look and feel, a new marketing rollout, and new product introductions. Looking ahead, they will expand and diversify their product line and create an umbrella brand for Neptune.

 “Longterm, we aspire to be the flagship brand for sustainable seafood snacks in the U.S., with products that are really nutritious and good for you,” he said. “OneForNeptune seeks to generate a healthy, sustainable, relationship with the ocean, securing a bluer future for you, for me, and for the sea.”
 

 

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