21 Mar Forget Farm-to-Table… Meet Lab-to-Table
The idea of artificially growing meat in a lab might seem like something from science fiction, but the technology has already been developed to make this dream come true, and even served at a White House dinner in 2015. So what exactly is lab-grown meat? The short answer is that it is food that’s grown in a petri dish rather than on the farm, meaning animals don’t have to deal with harsh living conditions or cruel slaughter methods in order for us to enjoy delicious meals.
Cultivating and Culturing
In the near future, lab-grown meat will finally be competing with regular meat and plant alternatives for restaurant menus and grocery store shelves. Lab-grown (or “cultivated”) meat companies have existed for many years, producing meat from animal-derived cell cultures – but you need a waiver to eat their meat. They have yet to market their meat because they are waiting for regulatory approval. Of course, that doesn’t mean the market isn’t full of opportunities. Some projections suggest that by 2040, cultured meat could account for a third of US meat consumption, surpassing plant-based alternatives. An even small piece of the $2.7 trillion global beef business would be huge.
Regulatory bodies are making advances to bring cultured meat to the mainstream, which could threaten traditional meat vendors and top plant-based alternative businesses.
Eat Just, which obtained a license from Singapore authorities to sell chicken breasts made from cell cultures, is the only company that is legally approved to sell cultivated meat. The business launched its “no-kill” chicken under the brand GOOD Meat in Singapore’s 1880 restaurant in December 2020, bringing cultured meat to the public for the first time.
In 2021, Eat Just announced that it has raised nearly $800 million for the development of its vegan and cell-cultured foods, and has been valued at $1.2 billion. It is estimated that the market for meat alternatives will grow to be worth $140 billion within the next decade, according to CB Insights’ Industry Analyst Consensus.
In recent years, Israel and Singapore have become the epicenters of innovation in cultured meat due to favorable regulatory conditions. Despite their inability to sell their meat, most businesses are working hard to develop them. Several Israeli companies have raised money to develop laboratory-grown meat, including Aleph Farms, SuperMeat, and Future Meat. SuperMeat has even opened a test restaurant, although it is not yet open to the public and diners must sign waivers before eating their no-kill, lab-grown chicken burgers.
US-based players may begin entering the game in 2022 if regulatory action and approvals take place in the lab-grown meat sector. In recent months, a handful of companies have announced plans to begin selling cultured meat on a commercial scale this year. One of these companies, Upside Foods (formerly Memphis Meats) leads the way in the cultivated meat market. Towards the end of 2021, the company constructed a 53,000-square-foot facility capable of manufacturing over 50,000 pounds of lab-grown beef and chicken annually, becoming the world’s largest cultivated meat facility.
While waiting for regulatory approval, the company worked on preparing its facility, packaging, and branding, as well as hosting tastings for employees, media, and investors such as Richard Branson. Dominique Crenn, a Michelin-starred chef, is providing “culinary counsel” to Upside and will eventually serve Upside chicken at her Atelier Crenn restaurant.
Taste, Texture, and Saving The Planet
There are many benefits to lab-grown meat, such as less environmental impact and health concerns. But what are those specifically? Lab-grown meat has the advantages of being less resource-intensive than commercial farming and removing worries about animal suffering and slaughter techniques. Cultured meats could produce 96% fewer emissions, 45% less energy, and 96% less water than traditionally farmed meats, according to an Oxford study.
Traditional meat lovers may also find lab-grown meat more appetizing since it has more familiar aromas, scents, and sensations than conventional plant-based alternatives.
Unlike plant-based alternatives that imitate meat (such as Impossible Foods’ “bleeding” plant-based burger, which is engineered to look and taste like meat) or other substitutes (such as black bean burgers or tempeh), lab-grown meat is real meat with the same taste and texture as traditionally farmed meat.
But, At What Cost?
However, the tech is not without flaws. One significant obstacle is cost, though prices may be on the decline. For example, Shiok Meats, located in Singapore, aims to begin selling its cell-based shrimp for around $37 per kilogram, which is roughly double the price of “real” shrimp but lower than the huge $7,400 price tag of a few years ago. CE Delft estimates that cell-cultured meat could match some traditionally farmed meats in price by 2030.
However, corporations will have to refine their technology if they want to expand operations enough to produce commercially viable meat. To counteract the “ick factor” associated with food that is perceived as “artificial” or lab-grown, education and branding activities are pivotal to the success of these companies.
When Competitors Become Investors
In any event, 2022 is shaping up to be the year when prominent plant-based meat substitutes like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat will have to compete for the first time with lab-grown opponents. Traditional meat suppliers such as Tyson, Smithfield, Hormel, and Cargill may be threatened by lab-grown meat entrepreneurs, however, several of these companies have already become investors in these startups after seeing an opportunity.
While regulatory agencies move slowly, they aren’t stationary, and regulatory developments this year might have a significant impact on the new foods we see in supermarkets and on our plates.