2024 Women of the Year Awards: Entrepreneurial leader – Winner Aki Kaltenbach

Aki Kaltenbach, founder and CEO of Save Da Sea Foods, is the winner of the Entrepreneurial leader category of the 2024 Women of the Year Awards


Aki Kaltenbach
Founder and CEO, Save Da Sea Foods

Aki Kaltenbach always wanted to be an entrepreneur; it just took her some time to find out how she was going to get there. While running her family’s Japanese restaurant in Whistler, she became vegan, but she had a difficult time finding alternatives for seafood. “It seemed obvious to me that plant-based food was the next big thing,” she says. “We were seeing the rise of companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.”

She started developing her own recipes using carrots to replicate smoked salmon and serving them in the restaurant. It was a side hustle for a couple of years before she validated the market for her products. In 2019, she made the leap to work on Save da Sea Foods full time.

Originally, Kaltenbach didn’t focus on selling packaged goods to retail customers—her idea was to sell her products to other restaurants. But, soon after she launched, the pandemic hit. “We quickly pivoted into creating a retail product. Today, 95 percent of our revenue comes from retail,” she says.

Despite the competition ramping up in plant-based food, Kaltenbach argues that the market for plant-based seafood is still underserved. “There are far fewer players than you see in plant-based milk, cheese or meat,” she maintains. “And unlike meat, where we essentially eat three types, we eat dozens of species of seafood. There’s so much opportunity. Even the companies that are out there have barely scratched the surface.”

Victoria-based Save da Sea has three offerings currently in the market—two smoked salmon varieties and a tuna salad product that’s made from jackfruit. More are on the way, but Kaltenbach doesn’t want to rush them. “In terms of future products, it’s very important that they be minimally processed, with whole fruits and vegetables,” she says, adding that the company is looking at developing crab cake and scallop products as well.

Organic growth is the name of the game, and Save da Sea, which has five full-time employees and one part-timer, is in 180 grocery locations across B.C. and Alberta, including Whole Foods and Save-On-Foods. Her team does a lot of sampling in those stores in order to educate the public on what’s possible in the sector.

“Plant-based has taken a bit of a bad rap recently, because a lot of it is quite processed,” she says. “It’s refreshing for people when they see the number-one ingredient is carrots or jackfruit and all the ingredients are recognizable.”