Cellular agriculture: a new world of opportunity?
Players in the conventional meat sector are increasingly exploring the possibilities of cellular agriculture. The goal is to make our food system more sustainable and no longer dependent on animal farming. The Bell Food Group, Tyson Foods, Cargill, and the PHW Group, are already supporting cellular-agriculture startups. So far, more than a billion dollars has been invested in cellular-agriculture companies.
Commercial interest in cellular agriculture is growing, along with interest from governments around the world. Increasing amounts of public funds are being allocated to cellular-agriculture research projects, including in the Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, and Singapore, as well as the European Union.
In addition, regulatory pathways for cultured products are currently being forged in the US. Singapore, meanwhile, recently authorised the first cultured-poultry product.
Food-regulatory authorities are already familiar with the use of cellular bioengineering in food. For example, rennet is already produced directly through cellular agriculture. Rennet is an enzyme found in the stomachs of ruminant mammals that is traditionally used to produce cheese.
In addition, the positive environmental impact, food-safety aspects, and economic prospects of cultured alternatives are likely to drive government support.
Consumer acceptance, however, is crucial to the success of cultured meat. It is therefore encouraging to see that surveys conducted in Europe, the US, and Asia show that the more informed people are about cellular agriculture, the more open they are to trying and buying cultured meat.
Top cellular agriculture companies:
Eat Just (chicken, USA)
Eat Just made history in December 2020 by getting the first regulatory approval for its cultured poultry products. The company’s chicken bites are now available in the Singapore restaurant 1880, where they are branded under GOOD Meat.
Clara Foods (egg proteins, US)
Founded in 2015, Clara Foods is the only company tapping into precision fermentation to bring animal-free eggs to market. Their production processes enable the development of egg proteins that are molecularly identical to those from chickens. They can therefore compete with animal-based eggs in terms of taste, texture, functionality, and nutrition.
Clara Foods is also working on developing other animal protein-based products. In March this year, the company reached a milestone by launching animal-free pepsin for global commercial use.
Perfect Day (ice cream, USA)
Founded in 2014, Perfect Day was the first company to leverage precision-fermentation processes in order to produce real milk proteins. The company is now leading the field and has raised the single largest amount of capital in the cellular-agriculture sector.
In April 2020, Perfect Day secured the coveted generally recognized as safe (GRAS) recognition from the US Food and Drug Administration for its milk proteins. Perfect Day’s products are already available for purchase in the USA and Hong-Kong, and the company is about to open an R&D centre in collaboration with Singapore’s government-run Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).
Aleph Farms (beef, Israel)
Created in 2017, the company unveiled the first prototype of its cultured ribeye steak in February 2021. Aleph Farms attracted funding from Cargill in 2018 and recently partnered with the Mitsubishi Corporation, as well as with BRF, in order to take cultured beef to Japan and Brazil, where the demand for meat alternatives is growing.
SuperMeat (chicken, Israel)
SuperMeat has been developing cultured chicken since 2015. In 2018, the company received funding from the PHW-Gruppe Corporation – the largest German poultry breeder and processor.
Listening to public opinion is at the heart of SuperMeat’s strategy. With this in mind, the company opened the very first restaurant experience dedicated to the testing of cultured chicken in November 2020 in Tel Aviv.
Memphis Meats (beef, duck, USA)
Memphis Meats is another pioneering cellular-agriculture company. The firm has attracted investment from food giants Tyson and Cargill. In January 2020, the team raised $161 million in a Series-B funding round, with the aim of building pilot production facilities.
Mosa Meat (beef, the Netherlands)
Mosa Meat was formed in 2015 after the creation of the world’s first cultured-beef burger by its founders Mark Post and Peter Verstrate.
The company has attracted investment from companies including Merck, the Bell Food Group, and Nutreco, and recently closed a $85-million Series B funding round. In 2019, Mosa Meat claimed to have successfully created the first animal-free growth medium for cultured meat.
BlueNalu (seafood, USA)
Founded in 2017, BlueNalue is currently the most-funded cultured-seafood startup. In January this year, the company closed a $60 million funding round – the largest financing round to date for the cell-based-seafood industry.
Blue Nala is developing various fish products, with mahi-mahi and bluefin tuna targeted as its initial products. BlueNalu is currently pursuing regulatory approval in the US, and plans to roll out its first cultured mahi-mahi product later this year.
Formo (cheese, Germany)
Formo, a ProVeg Incubator alumnus, is the first European startup to develop dairy products using precision fermentation. The company combines precision fermentation and the heritage of European cheesemaking to develop “stretchable, meltable, and delicious” cheeses.
Within a year of launching, the company raised €4M to develop dairy products that have the same composition as milk but are produced without raising animals.
Remilk (dairy products, Israel)
Another alumnus of the ProVeg Incubator, Remilk, founded in 2019, uses precision fermentation to produce milk proteins. After raising $11.3 million in 2020, the company is planning to expand its production and distribution capabilities.
Aviv Wolf, co-founder and CEO of Remilk, told Food Navigator that they are currently seeking regulatory approvals, both in the US and the EU.
Shiok Meats (seafood, Singapore)
Founded in 2018, Shiok Meats is developing cultured-seafood products. The company unveiled its first prototype for cultured lobster in November 2020 and aims to commercialise cultured-shrimp products by 2022. Shiok recently conducted a survey of consumer acceptance of cultured seafood in Singapore and found that more than three-quarters of consumers are open to trying it.
ClearMeat (chicken, India)
One of the first startups to join the ProVeg Incubator, ClearMeat is India’s first cultured-meat company. Founded in 2018, ClearMeat focuses on developing minced-chicken products. The startup claims to have already achieved price parity with animal-based products and, in early 2021, announced that it has filed a patent for its proprietary technology.
Biotech Foods (meat, Spain)
Founded in 2017, BioTech Foods is a Spanish cultured-meat company. The company is currently leading a €5.2 million project funded by the Spanish government to investigate the health benefits of cultured meat.
Biotech has also been awarded a €2.7 million grant under the EU’s Horizon 2020 R&D funding framework for its cultured research programme Meat4all. The purpose of the programme is to advance cultured-meat-production technology and improve market acceptance. It also focuses on conducting safety-assessment tests in order to improve industrialisation and commercialisation.
Peace of Meat (chicken/duck fat, Belgium)
Founded in 2019, Peace of Meat focuses on the production of cultured animal fat. This can be used to improve the taste, texture, and nutritional value of cultured and plant-based products. The need for this specialisation lies in the fact that fat plays a key role in the experience of eating animal-based meat.
In Berlin last year, Peace of Meat unveiled the very first proof-of-concept for its hybrid chicken nuggets, which consist of 80% vegetable protein and 20% cultured fat. Peace of Meat is also the first startup in the cell-ag field that has been acquired by another company.
Challenges to overcome
Although cellular agriculture shows very promising possibilities, many challenges still need to be addressed before products can be taken to market. The most pressing challenges include research, regulation, and consumer acceptance.
- More publicly-funded, open-source research is required to address technical challenges such as growth mediums, cell lines, and consumer safety.
- Further elaboration of the regulatory framework for cellular-agriculture products is needed in order to create a supportive environment for producers and consumers.
- More widespread information is needed to pave the way for the fair and objective reception of cultured products.