These include cost, scalability, and consumer acceptance.
Various headwinds face the cell-cultured meat sector
Cultivated meat, also known as lab-grown or cell-cultured meat, promises to change the way we consume and produce meat. By reproducing animal cells in bioreactors, manufacturers can create products that mimic the sensory and nutritional profiles of conventional meat, removing the need for traditional animal agriculture. This offers benefits for both human and environmental health and provides a solution to global food insecurity.
To date, regulation, cost, scalability, and consumer acceptance have prevented the widescale adoption of cell-cultured meat, which is currently only approved for human consumption in the US, Singapore, and as of recently, in controlled environments in the Netherlands.
The commercialisation of cultivated meat is dependent on several key priorities, including reducing production costs, scaling up the capacity and operation of bioreactors, and ensuring that products align with consumer preferences and expectations around quality and taste, said Jung Han, senior director of food science at Eat Just and Good Meat speaking at IFT First in Chicago in July.
“When producing cultivated meat products, the most important thing is to have a CPG [consumer packaged goods] mindset,” he said.
According to Neta Lavon, chief technology officer at Aleph Farms, Israeli food tech company specialising in cultivated meat production, to ensure consumer expectations are met, manufacturers should focus on refining three main parameters of cell-cultured products: organoleptic structure, price competitiveness, and availability.
Investment is needed to scale tech
Since the first cultivated meat product, Eat Just’s chicken bites, went on sale in a Singapore restaurant for $17 per portion in 2020, the cost of cell-cultured meat has reduced drastically. Yet price is still a sticking point for consumers and must continue to decrease, said Lavon. Encouraging innovation and scaling up the capabilities of technologies within the sector is one way of achieving this, she added.
“To expand the technology [required to produce cultivated meat], we need investments in capex [capital expenditure], which are very expensive for this type of tech. Governments should take part [in fundraising], as currently it is mostly led by private investors,” Lavon said.
Expanding the capabilities and scale of these technologies could also allow for cultivated meat to be produced locally, solving the issue of food insecurity in environments where food production is a challenge, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Upcycling to cut costs
Upcycling the by-products of animal agriculture and existing food production is one way to reduce the cost of cell-cultured products.
“[Animal agriculture] inputs are fairly pure ingredients; there’s definitely an opportunity to use these inputs in cellular agriculture products,” said James House, professor, and strategic research chair in sustainable protein at the University of Manitoba.
Aleph Farms is one company that is already experimenting with upcycled ingredients. The company uses food industry by-products as inputs to feed the growth of its cultivated meat cells, which eventually end up as whole cut meat analogues that are sustainable and slaughter-free, Lavon explained.
“Growing animal cells is of course less sustainable than growing plants, which only require sunlight [as an energy input]. However, we only grow the edible parts of the animal, rather than the whole thing, so there is significantly less waste [than traditional animal agriculture],” she said.
Just this week, Aleph Farms applied for regulatory approval for its cell-cultured meat product in Switzerland, marking the first-ever submission for the go-ahead of cultivated meat in Europe. Pending regulatory approval, the company plans to launch its cultivated steak products, Aleph Cuts, in Singapore and Israel in controlled quantities through tasting experiences later this year.
“We are not trying to mimic meat one-for-one but are aiming to develop a good product that will enhance sustainability, food security, and bring nutritional value to consumers,” Lavon said.
Adobe / SeventyFour
Food service sector can help build consumer acceptance
Cultivated meat could offer a solution to the challenge of feeding a rapidly growing population while mitigating the negative effects of climate change, given that enough consumers are prepared to incorporate these products into their diets. Yet to date, consumer acceptance remains a key challenge.
“[As an industry], our main thought process should be around how we can speed up consumer adoption of these products,” said Carole Sioufi, chief operating officer at Branchfood, a global community of food entrepreneurs and investors.
According to the Sioufi, the food service and retail sectors have a key role to play in addressing the challenges of consumer awareness and acceptance to increase the adoption of cell-cultured proteins globally.
“The food service enables a feedback loop with consumers which can help industry understand how far off widescale adoption [is]. Foodservice is a strategic channel for novel proteins as consumers trust chefs and other food service professionals,” he said.
A sustainable alternative to conventional meat
A life cycle assessment conducted by the Good Food Institute (GFI) in 2021 found that cultivated meat competes with all conventional meat environmentally, and scores much better than beef, where ReCiPe (a method of life cycle impact assessments to express the severity of environmental impact) single score and carbon footprint are concerned. Still a relatively nascent technology, the greatest environmental impact of cultivated meat relate to its energy demands in the processing phase.
The research shows that even with conventional energy, cell-cultured agriculture has a lower environmental single score and a lower carbon footprint than beef (cattle and dairy).