10 to Watch 2021 Winner: Save Da Sea Foods

“I want to be the ‘Beyond Meat’ of seafood.”— Aki Kaltenbach, founder of Save Da Sea Foods.

Aki Kaltenbach, founder of Save Da Sea.
Photo by Jeffrey Bosdet.

Sectors: Food, Retail, Sustainability

Year Launched: 2019

Founder: Aki Kaltenbach (pictured above with her son)

Unique Selling Proposition: Plant-based alternatives to seafood.

Product: A vegan seafood substitute made with natural ingredients.

Website: www.savedasea.com

Award sponsor: TELUS Business

Aki Kaltenbach has spent a fair amount of time managing her family’s three Japanese restaurants in Whistler, where fish was a main dish. But as a steadfast vegan, concerned with overfishing, she felt a change was needed.

So two years ago, the marketing whiz set sail with Save Da Sea Foods. Her first product is a vegan smoked salmon, made with carrots and a few other natural ingredients.

“It’s very obvious that plant-based seafood is the next big thing,” Kaltenbach says. With the appearance, texture and taste of salmon lox, it quickly caught on.

And while there are other salmon substitutes, Kaltenbach notes most are highly processed and use colouring.“I came to this from a health perspective,” she says. Still, the impact to the environment and animal welfare draws customers. “People who buy it are driven by different reasons.”

It took Kaltenbach one year to go from the idea to the shelf. “There were constant iterations. The product changed so much,” she says. Thanks to the three Whistler eateries, Kaltenbach was able to test the vegan salmon on willing diners and at trade shows.

“People tried it, not knowing it was plant-based. They were blown away,” she says.

Kaltenbach clearly recalls when she was ready to deliver her first order to Victoria’s The Very Good Butchers. Nine months pregnant, she brought them three cases of the vegan salmon. They ran out in two days and clamoured for more, but Kaltenbach had bigger fish to fry with the birth of her child.

Today, sales have expanded from one store to about 50 retailers in B.C. and Alberta, with a goal of 200 stores in the rest of Canada by the end of this year, followed by a U.S. foray in 2022. Next on Kaltenbach’s menu is a vegan canned-tuna, which she plans to introduce at the end of 2021. “Our vision is to create a world where we no longer need to kill fish,” she says.