You’ve heard of veggie burgers — from Boca Burger to Beyond Meat to Impossible Foods. Now get ready for kelp burgers. 

AKUA produces meat and seafood alternatives from ocean-farmed kelp. The U.S.-based ocean farmers AKUA works to grow kelp without fertilizer or pesticides — and without land or fresh water. That’s a major sustainable point in its favor. Kelp also sequesters large amounts of carbon dioxide and nitrogen, which helps mitigate the effects of ocean acidification. As a result, AKUA’s products are both healthy and good for the planet.

KingsCrowd spoke with AKUA founder Courtney Boyd Myers to learn about the inspiration for the company and its colorful, fun-loving brand.

Note: This interview was conducted over phone and email. It has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Funding Round Details

AKUA logo
Company: AKUA
Security Type: SAFE
Valuation: $16,000,000
Min Investment: $100
Platform: Republic
Deadline: Oct 15, 2023
View Deal

In your own words, how would you describe your company?

AKUA is a sustainable food company made by ocean lovers for ocean lovers.

What inspired you to take the leap and start this company?

In one of the first worst years in the history of California wildfires, in about 2016, I had this eerie dream one night set in an apocalyptic future where the oceans were too acidic to swim in and all the fish had died. My future granddaughter looked up at me and asked me “Grammie, what were you doing while the world was burning?” And what I took that to mean was what had I been doing in this brief window we have in time — which is right now — to turn things around for future generations. I woke up and decided that I needed to have a damn good answer for her.

Who is on your team and how did you come together?

The team today is different than when I first started because the needs of the company evolved over time as we shifted from an online kelp jerky company to a retail and food service-focused kelp burger company! Today, we have an incredible head of retail and food service sales who joins us from one of my favorite companies — Four Sigmatic — and we have a CFO in place who works across a number of high-growth consumer packaged goods startups. In addition, we have a lean ops team with our head of product stepping up to manage production and costs of goods sold reductions, and we have a director of marketing based in LA who has elevated our design tremendously and gets us the coolest partnership opportunities — like serving our Kelp Burgers at Coachella! We also have a junior sales assistant and a head of customer service. We’ve never worked with a professional recruiter, we find all of our team members through our incredible community network. And thankfully people are really drawn to working at AKUA, which is an almost all-female team, because of our awesome sustainability mission and delicious kelp products!

What does the competitive landscape look like, and how do you differentiate?

We see ourselves as pitted against the majority of fast-growing plant-based burger companies — from Beyond to Hilary’s. And we are also in competition now with another kelp-based company, Atlantic Sea Farms, which came out with a product that is very close to ours from an ingredient standpoint about a year after we launched. Thankfully, it’s not as delicious and we are outperforming them from a dollar sales perspective despite having three times smaller distribution at this time. We are also a food innovation company at our core, and coming out with new products year after a year is a part of our strategy to continue to keep our customers happy and grow our fan base! Our partnership with Nickelodeon’s “SpongeBob SquarePants” is a great example of how AKUA stays innovative, fresh, and continues to expand into new markets.   

What is your marketing strategy?

We are fun, colorful, educational, and inspirational, and talk to all of our consumers in the same, loving way — from baby boomers to Gen Z. One of the benefits of being an online e-commerce brand from day one is that we have a very strong online presence across Instagram, our website, and email/SMS marketing. This marketing presence serves us not just for e-commerce but of course to build buzz and word of mouth to drive sales in retail and food service. Partnering with influencers to build awareness is also a core part of our marketing strategy. And partnering with influential restaurants like The Butcher’s Daughter and The Standard in Miami to serve our Kelp Burger is a great way to get the word out about AKUA too!

What are you implementing to grow the sales of your products?

For retail, we utilize tools like Aisle and Social Nature to drive trials in stores. And, of course, we do a fair bit of sampling! The most important part of our sales strategy is getting people to try the AKUA Kelp Burger, because we feel confident we can hook them in just one bite. We also rely on our marketing strategies above to drive sales across all channels. 

Can you tell us about a time you have been scrappy for this company?

The hustle is real! We don’t have an external sales team, so when it comes to growing our food service business right now, it is me, my car, and a cooler bag driving door to door dropping off samples and following up with chefs until they put us on their menu! I made 40 drop-offs last weekend on Long Island alone ahead of our new partnership with Baldor as our first food service distributor.

We look forward to seeing where Courtney and her team take the company. AKUA is currently raising on Republic.