One of the biggest trends impacting the food processing sector is the continued development of lab-grown meat products. In discussing this cultivated or cultured source of protein, a number of questions arise in terms of availability, production capabilities and pricing.
To help break down some of these challenges and obtain some insight on where this product category currently stands, we recently sat down with Ido Savir, the CEO of SuperMeat, a leading developer of cell-based chicken products headquartered in Israel.
Jeff Reinke, editorial director: Starting with the basics, how would you define cultivated meat or poultry?
Ido Savir, CEO of SuperMeat: Meat cultivation is the process of manufacturing meat through fermentation. During this process, animal cells are grown in a fermenter (same as in beer and yeast production). The cells are fed with nutrients, carbohydrates, proteins, and vitamins until they mature into muscle, fat and other tissues that make up meat. This process takes several weeks and has the potential to produce meat on a mass scale in a fraction of the time, energy and cost of traditional meat manufacturing methods
This industry is attracting a lot of attention and investment due to the potential it holds. One of the most efficient ways to meet the growing demand for meat products in the coming years will be to grow it directly from animal cells. Cultivated meat products can provide all of the characteristics of traditionally produced meat, including taste, texture, smell, nutritional composition, and appearance, while reducing ecological footprint and removing the animal from the equation.
JR: Could you tell us a little more about your company, its products and goals?
IS: SuperMeat’s proprietary cultivated meat platform can produce any kind of meat, from chicken breast to liver and anything in between, aiming to cover the entire category of poultry and meat products. We’ve established a multi-breed production platform that allows us to manage and control various attributes to provide our partners with the tools to supply a diverse portfolio of high quality meat products.
The company has been showcasing the versatility of its meat platform in various events at its pilot production plant, The Chicken, the world's first farm-to-fork facility for local meat production. Furthermore, SuperMeat has recently conducted the world's first side-by-side blind tasting of cultivated meat compared to traditionally grown meat with professional chefs and food judges who found them indistinguishable, demonstrating its potential to serve as a base for endless meat applications.
JR: What are some of the biggest obstacles in getting these products to the mainstream, i.e. restaurants and grocery stores?
IS: The key challenges of the cultivated meat industry to achieve commercialization is a commercially viable supply and value chain which can facilitate scale at a competitive cost. Notably, achieving scale for the cultivated meat industry is very much dependent on multiple supportive industries scaling up in parallel. Developing strategic partnerships with leading players throughout the value chain will, therefore, be essential to sustaining and producing cultivated meat at scale at relevant prices.
In terms of manufacturing, for instance, local and efficient sourcing of cell feed components will be needed to reduce the cost of cell feed media, which accounts for 60-80 percent of production costs.
SuperMeat recently announced an important partnership in this field, with the Japanese multinational food and biotechnology corporation Ajinomoto. This partnership will merge Ajinomoto's successful manufacturing of amino acids and other media components with SuperMeat's cultivated meat production platform to create a commercially viable and sustainable supply chain solution for the cultivated meat industry.
With regard to the processing, distribution, and marketing of products, SuperMeat partners with major food companies to combine their incredible expertise and infrastructure in order to accelerate growth. Under this perspective, we recently announced a partnership with the PHW Group, one of Europe's largest poultry producers.
JR: How do your approaches to product development and production address these concerns?
IS: SuperMeat is working on commercializing its products in order to introduce them at market prices in foodservice in 2023. Costs will take a few more years to reach parity with products aimed at the mass market.
As discussed above, in order for cultivated meat to achieve commercialization, one of the key challenges is establishing a commercially viable supply chain which can scale effectively at a competitive price. Over the past year, SuperMeat has accomplished several significant milestones in this area: first, scaling up production to an industrial pilot and increasing yields and cell densities to more than 150 million/ml; second, reducing feed (cell media) costs by 10 folds, all of which will enable its products to be available at market prices in 2023.
In addition, we developed a unique technology based on our avian stem cell platform where we grow muscle, fat and connective tissue all together in a tissue-like structure in a scalable way. One of the strong points of this technology, which we've also patented, is its ability to grow tissue-like structures in full suspension without any carrier or scaffolding, resulting in a product that is 100 percent meat. Thus, it avoids the scale up complexities that may be introduced when working with meat masses that have embedded foreign material such as soy or algae.
Taste and nutrition are two other important aspects of providing products that satisfy consumer expectations. Finally, as mentioned, SuperMeat is working with leading global companies, such as Ajinomoto and PHW, to establish an efficient supply chain to support commercialization of the entire industry.
JR: The food manufacturing sector has definitely felt the effects of supply chain disruptions and labor shortages. How have you seen these dynamics impact your business?
IS: It is worth noting in this regard that consistent supply is one of the main benefits of cultivated meat production. Cultivated meat's production process ensures consistency in quality and characteristics regardless of external conditions such as weather and environment. In turn, this strengthens food security and stability.
Additionally, the closed and controlled process eliminates the main source of contamination, slaughter, which translates to fresh meat with a longer shelf life and helping to mitigate supply fluctuations.
JR: What do you foresee happening in the cultivated meats marketplace over the next 6-18 months?
IS: A lot of exciting things are coming for the cultivated meat industry. As the industry expands and the regulatory process progresses, we expect to see the first U.S. approvals granted, allowing the introduction of cultivated meat products to consumers.
Chicken and seafood-cultivated meat products are likely to be the first to be commercialized, with popular dishes such as chicken burgers, sausages, and spring rolls appearing on menus in fine and casual dining establishments first.
SuperMeat intends to launch its first products in the U.S. market in 2023, pending regulatory approval. In addition to building a first industrial facility in the U.S., SuperMeat also plans to operate in other sites that provide a supportive regulatory environment for cultivated meat, such as Singapore.
Further, we expect that more food companies will enter the growing industry, and we plan to work with them to develop products that meet consumer expectations across taste, texture, and nutritional profiles.