In 2013, the first clean meats were introduced to the world. A burger, cultivated in from cell cultures, showed that it was possible to bypass traditional meat processing. Since then, roughly 55 companies are exploring lab-grown foods and their future potential. Notably, there are many advantages to these products, which include environmental benefits. But at the same time, there are some major challenges. Seemingly, however, a number of these startups are making headway in their ability to bring their products to the market.
A variety of clean meats are now being produced in the lab. These include fish, beef, chicken, as well as some unique offerings and delicacies. But now of these lab-grown foods have made it to market just yet. Several questions remain, including whether consumers will embrace these offerings once labelled “Frankenfoods.” But based on the millions of dollars being invested in these products, it would seem most investors think this is inevitable. Therefore, it’s a great time to take a look at where the clean meats’ industry is at this time.
“We’re still at the prototype stage, showing proof of concept and proof of value.” – William Chen, the Michael Fam Chair Professor and Director of Food Science and Technology at Nanyang Technological University Singapore
The Process of Lab-Grown Foods
The basic process of producing clean meats involve taking single cell cultures and allowing them to grow in the lab. Nutrients are provided that enable the cells to replicate and grow. Some replicate themselves as many as a trillion times before lab-grown foods are realized. Different companies are exploring different types of meats, each with varied success. This includes shrimp being produced in Singapore and steaks being cultivated in Israel. Combined with other technologies, like 3D printing, tremendous opportunities exist for these goods in the future.
Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as simply pouring some nutrients over a petri dish of cells. Unlike tissues in animals, clean meats do not grow linearly or in recognizable meat structures without help. In order to achieve this, some type of scaffolding structures must be provided. Likewise, for steaks to have fatty streaks, like a nice ribeye, other tissue cells besides meat must be added. This makes the process of lab-grown foods much more difficult than simply growing cells in a dish. But new technologies are allowing many of these startups to overcome these initial barriers.
Overcoming the Challenges of Clean Meat
The difficulties associated with lab-grown foods extend beyond the actual process itself. In trying to create a lab-to-table experience, the industry is tasked with overcoming other challenges as well. One of the most notable ones involves the cost of production. For example, Shiok Meats in Singapore continues to struggle with pricing despite making some headway. Its cell-cultured shrimp meat has gone from $2,268 per pound to $1,588 per pound. In order to be attractive in a market setting, this will need to drop by a factor of 100. Mosa Meats has nearly achieved this with their beef patty, which Is just over $10. So, it does seem that startups are finding ways to resolve these issues.
Other challenges for clean meats have also involved scaling to site and in attaining regulatory approvals. In order to produce the volumes of lab-grown foods that will be in demand, serious scaling is needed. But this is not easily achieved overnight. Likewise, few countries have developed a structured regulatory process for these foods. And of course, how consumers will respond to these clean meats remains to be seen. In some surveys, a majority polled had little interest in such foods, particularly younger generations. Thus, in addition to startup funding to help advance production volumes, marketing and lobbying activities will also be needed.
“Imagine when you can tailor the taste of any piece of meat. What does pork with salmon fat taste like? What does a mix between Wagyu beef and other heritage beef steak lines taste like? What about meat that tastes both sweet and sour?” – Ryan Bethencourt, Cofounder of IndieBio, Investor in Shiok
The Benefits of Lab-to-Table
Lab-grown foods offer a number of benefits that may not be readily apparent at first. Naturally, if challenges can be effectively addressed, then clean meats could help address food scarcity. As the population grows, and resources are depleted, this is a noteworthy benefit. But likewise, cell-cultured foods offer environmental advantages. For example, cell-cultured beef reduces land use by 95 percent compared to traditional cattle farm requirements. It also reduces carbon emissions by nearly 75 percent. And it likewise might be quite attractive to vegans who support animal rights and oppose animal use for food production.
For many of the companies involved in lab-grown foods, their products offer basic meat products. In essence, they are like ground meats that might be used as flavorings in dishes or basic foods like nuggets or burgers. But clean meats also invite new opportunities for creativity. For instance, cell cultures could blend different meat types to produce new protein options. From a culinary perspective, this could open the door for many new interesting offerings. In addition, some companies are going for top-notch quality. Aleph Farms uses 3D technology and co-cultures to create high quality steaks. Finless Foods is trying to cell culture Bluefin tuna, which is highly preferred but also an endangered species. Companies are only beginning to see the vast potential that lab-grown foods offer.
A Market Waiting to Boom
It’s notable that the lab-grown foods market has attracted many major investors. Companies like Tyson and Cargill, which are major meat industry players, have invested in some of these startups. Likewise, billionaires such as Richard Branson and Bill Gates have as well. The fact that plant-based food companies have grown tremendously support these perspectives. In fact, Beyond Meats’ share price has increased 500 percent since they went public. If clean meats have the same potential, then investing in these companies will be a wise move for investors. It’s certainly the reason many have already received millions in seed funding.
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