Lab-grown meat startups hope to make headway in 2022

Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of cultured meat startup Eat Just, has a vision: he envisions a day when lab-raised meat is available everywhere from Michelin-star restaurants to street vendors and fast food chains .

Getting there, however, will require further investment – ​​and regulatory approvals. Cultured or cultured meats are real animal products made in laboratories and commercial manufacturing facilities. Currently, the process is costly, but researchers and entrepreneurs say manufacturing will become more efficient and cost-effective over time. If consumers switch to cultured meat, it could help reduce greenhouse gases from agriculture and mitigate climate change.

“It’s not inevitable,” Tetrick said in an interview. “This could take 300 years or 30 years. It’s up to companies like ours to do the actual work of building the tech capability…and communicating directly with consumers about what it is and isn’t, and how it can benefit their lives.”

Investors have poured around $2 billion into space over the past two years, according to Crunchbase data. The coming year will bring further investments. Eat Just and others are working to obtain regulatory approval in the United States from the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture.

Nick Cooney, managing partner at LeverVC, which invests in the sector, said he expects approval later this year.

“There are several companies in this space that are building large, pilot-scale plants to make cultured meat products, but to produce in fairly large quantities that’s going to take a lot of capital investment and a lot of steel, and that’s just going to take time,” he said.

Eat Just has made major breakthroughs over the past two years. In Singapore, the company received its first regulatory approval for its cultured chicken from Good Meat in December 2020 and has since been approved to sell new types of cultured chicken there, including chicken breasts, tenders and shredded chicken products.

“It’s real meat,” Tetrick said. “And instead of taking billions of animals and all the land and water and all the rainforests that you usually have to tear down to get that done, we’re starting with one cell. You can obtain the cell from a biopsy of an animal, such as a fresh piece of meat or a cell bank. Now we don’t need the animal anymore. Then we identify the nutrients needed to nourish that cell and … we make them in a stainless steel vessel called a bioreactor.”

Eat Just also sells mung bean plant-based egg products at stores like Whole Foods and Publix in the US and employs more than 200 people.

To date, more than 700 people in Singapore are said to have been provided with its cultured meat products — a number Tetrick hopes to increase quickly as it wins approvals in other countries.

After approval, Eat Just said it has already laid the groundwork to get started. The company’s Good Meat Division last year announced a $267 million capital raise to build containers and systems that will ramp up production in both the United States and Singapore, where it currently manufactures aiming to have this equipment operational within the next two years. In August, the company also announced it would build a facility in Qatar in partnership with Doha Venture Capital and the Qatar Free Zones Authority, but much more capital is needed to build bioreactors big enough to scale.

According to the nonprofit research association The Good Food Institute, more than 100 start-ups are working on cultured meat products, and larger companies are also expanding their own operations.

JBS, the global protein giant, acquired BioTech Foods in late 2021 and invested $100 million to enter the cultured meat market and set up a research and development center in Brazil. The Spanish biotech company is another leader in the cultured food sector and is focused on developing biotechnology for the production of cultured meat.

These developments come as consumers are increasingly concerned about climate change and want to change their eating habits to combat it. Plant-based meat products have become ubiquitous, popping up on menus like KFC’s or popping up on supermarket shelves at Target. Cultured meat could offer Americans another alternative, coexisting with products from companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.

“The world will not reach net-zero emissions without addressing food and land,” said Caroline Bushnell, vice president of corporate engagement at the Good Food Institute.

“The role of our food system in climate change is generally underestimated, but industrial animal husbandry makes an important contribution,” she said. “Alternative proteins, including cultured meats, can be a key aspect of how we reduce emissions from our food system. Without a decline in industrial meat production, we cannot really meet our commitments under the Paris climate agreement.”

Chef Jose Andres, a restaurateur and founder of the nonprofit humanitarian group World Central Kitchen, wants to be part of this solution. Last month he joined the board of Eat Just’s Good Meat division and has pledged to sell the cultured chicken at one of his US restaurants pending regulatory review.

Promises like these can help bring Tetrick closer to his vision. But costs must also come down.

“A local restaurant or a big fast-food chain won’t take that if it’s a lot more expensive than regular meat. They’ll take it when it’s close — or better yet, when it’s under the cost. And that’s what we have to fight for,” said Andres.

Leave a Comment