Growing up in a family deeply rooted in the entrepreneurial spirit, Aki Kaltenbach’s early years were spent working in her family’s restaurants.
Aki’s concept for Save da Sea emerged while she was managing her family’s Japanese restaurants. In 2018, she shifted to a vegan lifestyle and began looking for plant-based seafood, both for her own consumption and for her customers, but she couldn’t find a quality product.
Determined to fill the market gap for seafood alternatives, Aki crafted her own recipes and introduced plant-based seafood products to her family’s restaurant menu. The new options were met with overwhelming positive feedback and soon became a favourite on the menu! Aki took the plunge and decided to launch her own business, Save da Sea, and devote her time to the venture on a full-time basis in 2019.
Based in Victoria, Save da Sea specializes in the production of plant-based seafood crafted from whole foods. The products have the same nutrients and flavour as seafood without the toxins and harm to the planet. Save da Sea’s mission is to contribute to the preservation of our oceans by offering delightful and convenient alternatives, and empowering consumers to make sustainable dietary choices.
Currently, their product lineup includes two smoked salmon alternatives derived from carrots, and a plant-based tuna salad featuring jackfruit. In a short time, Save da Sea has made waves in the market and products are currently available in over 500 stores including Whole Foods, Choices, Healthy Planet, Longo’s and Sobeys. In 2024, Save da Sea was featured in the Whole Foods Top Trends report in the Fancy Faux Fish category.
In late 2022, Aki was using a co-manufacturer in Vancouver to produce her product, when she was approached with an opportunity to take over a food manufacturing facility in Victoria. She turned to WeBC for a business loan and completed her funding puzzle with Coralus. By moving production in-house to their own facility in Victoria, Save da Sea was able to increase their production capacity, improve their margins while creating five high-skilled jobs in food manufacturing on Vancouver Island.
Aki worked with a WeBC Business Advisor to review her cash flow forecast, participated in the Trade Accelerator Program and also accessed the WEOC National Loan Program via WeBC to replenish her working capital. Aki has an extensive group of advisors and investment partners, is leveraging all opportunities in the ecosystem and is on track to expand Save da Sea into the US market this year.
LOAN CLIENT Q&A
Q: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned on your entrepreneurial journey?
A: Growing Save da Sea is the hardest thing I have ever done. People tell you how hard it is to run your own business, but it’s hard to truly understand it until you experience it for yourself. I’m fighting fires every other day, from supply chain issues to increasing costs, equipment breaking down, and retailers delisting your products. But the rewards far exceed the challenges.
I have an incredible team that is passionate about what we do and that alone gets me excited to do what I do every single day. We have a growing customer base that tells us how much they love our products and how happy they are to be able to enjoy seafood again after not being able to eat it for years.
Most importantly, we are working on one of the most pressing issues of our time, our oceans face significant peril, with a predicted total collapse of global fisheries by 2048 due to human-led destruction and climate change. By inspiring more people to shift to a plant-based diet, we can help relieve pressure on our oceans.
Q: How has your community played a role in your business’ success?
A: I am very lucky to have an incredible group of advisors, investors and peers around me that have allowed us to get to where we are today. Having a clear purpose has helped us find folks who are just as passionate as us about alleviating pressure on our oceans.
Q: What has your WeBC loan enabled you to do in your business?
A: WeBC gave us a loan to fund the build of our state-of-the-art facility in Victoria. Getting loans from traditional lenders such as banks for a business of our size is virtually impossible. The funds from WeBC allowed us to invest in equipment to help increase our production capacity thereby reducing our labour cost. This will allow us to achieve profitability by the end of 2024.
Q: What other kinds of support have been helpful as you grow your business?
A: Recently, WeBC gave us the opportunity to participate in a program called Investoready which helps educate start-up founders on accessing venture capital.
The program is now complete and we will have the opportunity to pitch our businesses to potential investors which will allow us access to additional capital to help fund our expansion to the US.
Q: What advice do you have for other women entrepreneurs?
A: There are many paths to success, so don’t be discouraged if someone tells you that the path you have chosen is wrong or different. My strategy has been to collect as much advice as possible and then make a decision I feel is best based on the information I have.
At the end of the day, no one is going to understand nor care about your business as much as you do, so you know best what is the right path for you.
WHERE TO FIND SAVE DA SEA
Website – www.SaveDaSea.com
Facebook – Save da Sea
Instagram – @SaveDaSea
LinkedIn – Save da Sea Foods Inc.