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Leading the Plant-Based Seafood Movement with Aki Kaltenbach of Save da Sea Foods

“It was a side hustle for the longest time. It’s not like I came up with the idea for Save da Sea and then I was like, ‘Okay, see ya family, I’m out!’ You know, I have a toddler, I have a mortgage. So there were lots of other things I needed to think about before I just dived in.”

Aki Kaltenbach, Founder + CEO of Save da Sea Foods

In this episode

Aki Kaltenbach, Founder of SheEO Venture Save da Sea Foods, and Vicki Saunders, Founder of SheEO, as they discuss Aki’s entrepreneurship journey and her mission towards building a global, plant-based seafood brand. Save da Sea’s first product to market is a sustainable, plant-based smoked salmon made from simple ingredients, which convincingly mimics the taste and texture of salmon lox.

They also discuss:

  • What led Aki to start her Venture
  • Her background and longtime desire to be an entrepreneur
  • Co-creating the recipe for Save da Sea’s salmon lox
  • How she’s scaling her business through retailer distribution and restaurants
  • And future products from Save da Sea that are currently in the works

We invite you to join us as an Activator at SheEO.World.

Take action and engage with Save da Sea Foods:

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Podcast Transcript:

The podcast is being transcribed by Otter.ai. (there may be errors, run-on sentences and misspellings).

Aki Kaltenbach 0:00
It was a side hustle for the longest time. It’s not like I came up with the idea for Save da Sea and then I was like, “Okay, see ya family, I’m out!” You know, I have a toddler, I have a mortgage. So there were lots of other things I needed to think about before I just dived in.

Hannah Cree 0:16
Welcome to the SheEO.World podcast, where you will meet women who are transforming the world to be more equitable and sustainable. Your host for today’s podcast is the founder of SheEO, Vicki Saunders. Welcome to SheEO.World.

Vicki Saunders 0:34
Welcome Aki we’re so thrilled to have you on the SheEO podcast.

Aki Kaltenbach 0:38
Thank you. Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Vicki Saunders 0:41
Good. New venture in Canada this year. So tell us who you are and how you came up with this idea.

Aki Kaltenbach 0:48
Yeah, so my name is Aki Kaltenbach. I’m the CEO and founder of Save da Sea Foods. We are a plant based seafood company. We’re based in Victoria on Vancouver Island. Yeah, I mean, origin story, I came up with the idea for Save da Sea when I was I was running my family’s Japanese restaurants in Whistler prior to this, and I became vegan in 2017. Along with my partner, I was looking for seafood alternatives to serve to our customers. And I literally couldn’t find any options. So I created my own.

Vicki Saunders 1:25
It’s just awesome. So okay, first of all, yeah, so how’d the family react going to vegan with a Japanese restaurant?

Aki Kaltenbach 1:32
For sure. It was you know, it’s interesting. Most of my the Japanese side of the family, ’cause I’m half Japanese was—vegan, vegetarian and vegan cuisine, there is a history around it like monk food. Monks don’t eat animals for obvious reasons. But the most pushback I actually had was from my dad, who is a chef, and a very classically trained chef from Europe. And so he was the most resistant but even he’s coming around. So.

Vicki Saunders 2:01
That’s great. It is the future. Yes, exactly. Yeah. So plant based seafood. Qu’est-ce que c’est? What is that?

Aki Kaltenbach 2:10
So it is seafood made from plants, ours specifically and you’re seeing you know, as plant based becomes more mainstream, you’re seeing different versions of it have come out whether it’s, you know, minimally processed to you know, kind of junk food, vegan food to cell cultured, we are in the camp of made from whole foods, minimally processed, simple ingredients. So our, our and we have one product in market today, which is a plant based smoked salmon made from carrots, and it has a total of eight ingredients.

Vicki Saunders 2:49
Oh, really? I didn’t know there’s only eight. That’s cool. So I ordered this because I love trying all of the products. And we had it up at the cottage with the family. And everyone loved it. It was great. It literally tastes exactly like smoked salmon.

Aki Kaltenbach 3:04
Amazing. Thank you. Yeah, it’s you know, and when people ask how to use it, like literally just substitute what you would normally eat smoked salmon with. Yeah, lox bagels, kind of most obvious application.

Vicki Saunders 3:18
So did you have any culinary background? I mean, I obviously runs in the family. So you had some people to draw upon, but how did you go about creating the product?

Aki Kaltenbach 3:26
I have. So I do come from a family of restauranteurs and chefs. However, I am not a trained chef by any means. I come from the more management side. But I do have just you know, working in restaurants, you do have input into recipe development. So I came up with a basic recipe and then I, I applied for a futurpreneur loan, which you can get until the age of 40. And with that money, I hired a food, I was able to hire a food scientist. And she helped me make not only a product that was you know, food safe, but also more scalable, because the product if you know if you were to see my original recipe and compare it to today, it is worlds apart, the first product probably would have taken me five days to make whereas you know, and lots of waste. So she helped me create a more scalable product.

Vicki Saunders 4:24
So I’m always interested in like how people get things off the ground. So you’re like, I want something for me. How does it go from I need something for myself to then I think I’m going to create a business. Did you want to be an entrepreneur? I mean, you’ve been part of an entrepreneurial family. But tell us a bit about the journey there.

Aki Kaltenbach 4:39
Yeah, I have wanted to be an entrepreneur. I, not my whole life but definitely for the last, you know, eight to 10 years, but but never quite sure what that could look like. I have had a startup before. I mean, I use that word. So I put that in double quotes. You know, we had like a customer and you know, virtually no revenue. I, it was a side hustle for the longest time. It’s not like I came up with the idea for Save da Sea. And then I was like, “Okay, see ya family I’m out!” You know, I have a, I have a toddler, I have a mortgage. So there were lots of other things I needed to think about before I just dived in. So it was while I was developing the recipe, while I was acquiring those first few customers and verifying product market fit it, I was still managing my family’s restaurants and probably did that for at least a year, if not longer. Before I finally had the guts to just be like, Okay, this is my full time gig.

Vicki Saunders 5:42
That’s so great. And so then how did you go to market? Did you partner with anyone else? Did you do it by yourself?

Aki Kaltenbach 5:47
Yeah, I was, even with the futurpreneur loan, it was just me for the longest time. So making the product delivering the product, getting sales, marketing, I so we’re based in Victoria, kudos to The Very Good Butchers, they were my first customer. And you know, so much trust, you know, to put somebody who you know, has no experience and put their product in stores. So, you know, started with them, and then gradually added a few more independent retailers, until we, you know, could justify a large enough amount of revenue for a distributor.

Vicki Saunders 6:26
Right. And so what’s the plan? Where do you want to take it? And what’s in your way? Like, what are people finding you and saying, How do I get more of this? What’s happening?

Aki Kaltenbach 6:35
I mean, the timing couldn’t be better. So not only is plant based the plant based movement, you know, becoming mainstream. Plant based seafood with the the release of that the documentary see Seaspiracy has put so much raise, increase the awareness around the detriment that commercial fishing has on our oceans. And you know, if you haven’t seen Seaspiracy, spoiler alert, the messages, eat less seafood. I mean, that is the biggest impact you can have as an individual. So yeah, so we’re in terms of where we are today, we are in 75 retailers in BC and Alberta, we’re coming to Ontario and Quebec in September, you know, although we have some awareness in BC and Alberta, although you know, still so, so much so much land to grab so much whitespace. Nobody knows us in Ontario and Quebec. And so we’re gonna have to do a really good job of opening doors and, you know, meeting peeps and getting the word out.

Vicki Saunders 7:33
Well, we can totally help there. We have lots of Activators in the region, and certainly using the marketing muscle in this community, and the energy and the excitement around you for all the people that voted for you this year. We’re really excited to help.

Aki Kaltenbach 7:47
Amazing. Yes.

Vicki Saunders 7:48
Do you have other products under development?

Aki Kaltenbach 7:50
Yeah, so we are currently developing a canned tuna analog. Wow, that we’ll be launching, we just started development of it, September, October. The other kind of piece I didn’t mention is we also have a—retail is our main driver of revenue right now. But we also have a like we we also offer a product to restaurants. And so we will likely go to market with food service for that product. It just it allows us to get kind of immediate feedback and allows us to improve the product before we we scale it more broadly.

Vicki Saunders 8:24
And I can imagine that retailers are like, can you scale quickly? Like how do we get this? It feels like there’s just such demand for this exactly what you said the timing is right. How does that how is that going?

Aki Kaltenbach 8:35
Yeah, it depends, you know, you would be and I didn’t I this is my first time working in CPG. consumer packaged goods. What is great is especially in BC and Alberta, there are a lot of independent retailers that you can literally knock on their door, get a meeting and get your product in the next week. But it’s not like that with Whole Foods with Save-On and then you get into Sobey’s and Loblaws. You know, with Whole Foods, we had got approval to that they would list our product in November of 2020. And we only got in stores in April.

Vicki Saunders 9:08
Yeah.

Aki Kaltenbach 9:09
And so and i think that’s that’s pretty normal.

Vicki Saunders 9:12
Pretty normal, I’d say six months is yeah, yeah.

Aki Kaltenbach 9:14
They do category reviews once a year and so if you miss that window, then you know, you won’t be on shelf until the year after.

Vicki Saunders 9:24
Well it’s exciting to know that you’re there. Whole Foods. That’s cool. And where do you see this going? Like what’s your ambition around it?

Aki Kaltenbach 9:31
I want to build a global plant based seafood brand. You know, I talked about we’re launching in Ontario and Quebec in September and then the US you know, soon after that. And then you know, Europe is it’s super progressive market and when it comes to plant based, and might I add is the largest consumer of smoked salmon in the world. So having our product available in globally but also with multiple plant based seafood products. So first we’re doing canned tuna, then, you know, we will likely move into the frozen food aisle, you know, scallops, calamari, you know, the world is our oyster.

Vicki Saunders 10:12
So excited. I’m just so excited to taste all of this, you just to see the innovation that’s going on in this space. It’s really, really incredible. So if you’re like a super conscious consumer, it’s just getting harder and harder to figure out what you’re going to be able to eat for dinner.

Aki Kaltenbach 10:24
I know. Right? It yeah, we are. We are very lucky.

Vicki Saunders 10:28
Yeah. So to have like, low, low processing, but also just like the business practices of the organization, and how you feel about, you know, all the things. So I think there’s just a lot of opportunity there. Do you do have a story about something that was just like, the hardest thing that you aren’t sure how you got over? That you’re like, how am I gonna survive this?

Aki Kaltenbach 10:50
Yeah, actually. I mean, every entrepreneur will say this, there have been lots of hard things. So we currently produce the product ourselves. However, we in order to scale, we’re in a shared kitchen, by the way, so our facility is tiny, but my strategy was always to move to a co-manufacturer. And when I when I first started the business, because I have raised them, I did a pre seed raise. And the story that I was telling investors is like, we’re going to find a co-man, and then then we’re going to target the world. Honestly, I spoke to over 100 co-manufacturers, and I’m not even exaggerating. And there were many days that I was like, oh, man, I’m not going to find one. And I actually don’t have a plan B. Like because the plan B is getting a facility for tens of thousands of dollars, which I didn’t have. We found one but it was like finding a needle in a haystack.

Vicki Saunders 11:53
This is one of the things that happens in the SheEO community a lot is like someone finds that needle in a haystack. And you’re like, help, what do I do? And so we’ve seen that a lot with our Ventures sharing. And you know, those those challenging things, which everyone else is really challenged with? And how do you find the values alignment with the scale that you want with the right price tag? So yeah, congratulations on finding that. That’s cool.

Aki Kaltenbach 12:15
Thank you.

Vicki Saunders 12:17
Do you have an Ask for the community and for our listeners today?

Aki Kaltenbach 12:21
Yes, I do. So I mentioned that we are just getting into food service. So selling into restaurants, and we secured a partnership with the world’s largest plant based food chain. It’s a Canadian company called Copper Branch. And they have 42 locations across Canada, one in Vancouver, two in Alberta. And then the rest are actually in Quebec in Ontario. And they are using our vegan smoked salmon in a poké bowl that is available for only six weeks. And so obviously want to like knock the socks off each retailer each location and have them sell out. So if you are close to a Copper Branch, please indulge in a poké in a Save da Sea vegan smoked salmon poké bowl.

Vicki Saunders 13:08
Okay, cool. I’m going to check that out, actually tonight and see if there’s something near me that I can—I actually don’t even know Copper Branch so I should check it out.

Aki Kaltenbach 13:15
Copper branch? Yeah.

Vicki Saunders 13:17
Okay. So you’re ask is for that short term. But is there anything else longer term amplification? You’re selling online?

Aki Kaltenbach 13:23
Well, we do sell online through The Very Good Butchers. Yes. Yes. So absolutely order, you know, ask for our product in store, even though we’re not in Ontario, yet. We’re coming and nothing motivates retailers more than customers asking for a product.

Vicki Saunders 13:41
Yeah, we’ve done that a lot in the past to help get things out into the world. So on it. That’s good. Okay, great. We can do that. Thank you so much for joining us today. Super excited about tuna in a can analog. Hello. Okay. And all of the future of this. So we’re thrilled to have you in the community. Really excited about what you’re doing. And please don’t hesitate to continue to ask for help whenever you need it.

Aki Kaltenbach 14:04
Amazing. Thank you so much.

Hannah Cree 14:09
Thank you for listening to the SheEO.World podcast. Like, comment, subscribe and share this podcast with your friends. We invite you to join a global community of radically generous women at SheEO.World.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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