This series provides insights into the global array of companies participating in this challenge as innovators or sponsors.
The 14th of this Spotlight Series focuses on Spheric Research, part of this program's core team along with The Yield Lab Asia Pacific.
Spheric Research is building data and expertise in global seafood and novel food production systems.
Matt Craze founded Spheric Research in 2017 to bring data driven analysis and perspective to fast-growing alternative food industries such as aquaculture and novel proteins.
While studying for his MBA at Cornell University, Matt discovered the enormous potential of the $250 billion a year aquaculture industry through a freelance role at the world’s leading seafood trade publication Undercurrent News. While visiting shrimp farms in Ecuador and Honduras in 2016, Matt noted the virtual absence of market data compared to commodities such as soybeans, steel and copper that he covered during his 11-year career at Bloomberg.
“It was like discovering a sleeping giant,” Matt said. “What fascinated me was that this industry is very global, and often in very remote parts of the world.”
Sensing a vast opportunity was at hand, Matt’s consultancy partnered with Undercurrent News to produce exclusive market reports that harnessed the publication’s price data and broad knowledge of the global aquaculture industry. Spheric Research and Undercurrent News have published 12 market intelligence reports, including the first global database of land-based salmon and post-smolt farms that use recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) technology. A new report scheduled for publication in October 2021 will include the first database of all aquatic animal species raised using RAS technology.
Spheric Research’s growing reputation as an authoritative source of aquaculture data and insights is helping it attract top talent. Oriana Aguillon joined the company in 2018 and is now a key member of the database team. Matt notes that Oriana chose his start-up company over a position on the trading team of state-run oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).
Spheric Research’s edge in aquaculture has its roots in Matt’s deep experience covering other commodities. He landed his first job in London in 2001 at CRU Group, a company founded in the 1970s to provide data, market intelligence and consultancy services to the mining and metals industries. Working at CRU’s copper desk, Matt wrote market intelligence reports during the early years of a China-fueled commodities boom that saw prices for the red metal surge from just $1 a pound in 2002 to $8 a pound six years later.
Matt moved to Bloomberg News in 2004 where he built the company’s first news product based on data from the London Metal Exchange and started coverage of global steel markets. In 2006, Matt became the first dedicated member of a commodities team in South America to capture market intelligence from key suppliers of grains and oilseeds in farming giants Brazil and Argentina. His leadership helped parent company Bloomberg LLP win business with Chicago Mercantile Exchange traders who up until then had purchased information from rival Thomson-Reuters for decades. This period coincided with a spike in global food prices that triggered riots across the world, resulting in an acrimonious showdown between Argentina’s government and farmers over export taxes.
After directly participating in the previous commodities supercycle, Matt sees similar trends starting to play out in aquaculture, which was already the world’s fastest growing animal protein business when Spheric Research started coverage.
Aquaculture M&A is surging this year as new investors, especially those with an ESG focus, pour money into companies that promise to deliver healthier proteins with a lower carbon footprint, Matt said.
“Aquaculture is at the nexus of many things that are happening in the world right now. Also, the broader food industry is starting to attract a lot of investment on expectations that agtech and artificial intelligence will create new sources of sustainable foods for the world’s growing population,” he said.
That vision resonated with Claire Pribula, Managing Director and Co-Founder of The Yield Lab Asia Pacific, who Matt met at the GOAL seafood conference in Chennai, India in 2019. Pribula was about to launch the Global Aquaculture Challenge to spur innovation in the sector. Spheric Research joined forces with The Yield Lab Asia Pacific to bring media coverage and sponsorship to the challenge. Matt was impressed by The Yield Lab’s substantial portfolio of early-stage agtech investments and the organization’s track record of hosting similar challenges in soybeans, vertical farming and even manure.
“What I really liked about the Yield Lab getting involved in aquaculture was that it was in the thick of the agtech investment boom, which had been kind of passing aquaculture by," Matt said. "The aquaculture industry is really quite fragmented and is broken up into hubs around the world that are connected by a few global players in feed and pharmaceuticals. The aquaculture space, in my mind, really needed the vision of a The Yield Lab to come in and help drive radical change needed in outdated production systems.”
Matt believes a lot more needs to be done to foster innovation in aquaculture. Shrimp farm mortality rates currently average about 40% worldwide, up from just 10% a decade ago due to rising pollution in Southeast Asia’s coastal waters. Some areas of the seafood supply chain such as farmed shrimp and salmon are in a race against time to eliminate antibiotics usage before consumers choose other protein sources.
“As The Yield Lab says, innovation is desperately needed in this space,” Matt said. “There is so much potential. That’s certainly why I’ve decided to stick around in this space.”
13 Oct 2021.
The Yield Lab Asia Pacific