Daan Luining, CTO and co-founder of Meatable, is something of a veteran in the nascent cultured meat sector: he was part of the research team that worked with Professor Mark Post at Maastricht University, developing the very first lab-grown burger back in 2013. It was this experience that allowed him to visualise the possibilities of cultivated meat.
After a stint as research strategist at the non-profit, New Harvest, which works to fund academic research in cultured meat and then as research division director at the Cellular Agriculture Society, Luining teamed up with Krijn De Nood to found his own cultured meat startup, Meatable.
In 2022, Meatable developed its first two products, cultivated pork sausages and cultivated meat dumplings.
“When we thought about what type of meat to focus our development on, we wanted to make sure it was a loved product worldwide,” Luining says. “Pigs are the most widely eaten animal in the world, accounting for about 36% of meat production globally. Moreover, our process and technique are very well applicable to pork. The decision to go for cultivated pork products was therefore quickly made.”
Luining, who will be speaking at the Future of Protein Production in Amsterdam on 11 and 12 October on how to transition from hybrid to full-tissue alternative protein products, is based in the Netherlands, where the government recently approved tastings of cell-cultivated meat and seafood without requiring novel food approval.
However, Meatable has its sights set squarely on serving the Asian market. It held its first tasting session in Singapore and has partnered with contract manufacturer ESCO Aster to become the first cultivated pork producer in Singapore. It is also collaborating with the plant-based company Love Handle to build what it says is the world’s first Future of Meat Innovation Centre, again in Singapore.
Pluripotent stem cells multiply rapidly for faster manufacturing
In 2023, Meatable raised $35 million in funding, bringing its total funding so far to $95 million. It has also focused its efforts on improving the speed and scale of its operations. According to Luining, it can now go from cell to sausage in just eight days - “less than 5% of the time needed to rear a pig on a farm”.
Meatable’s rapid manufacturing process is thanks to its choice of cell lines, and this sets it apart from many cell-cultured meat competitors, according to the CTO and co-founder.
“While immortalised cell lines are more commonly found in the industry, they require an alteration of the cells to allow them to multiply indefinitely. Our technology is instead based on pluripotent stem cells (PSCs), which have the natural ability to keep on multiplying and to do so rapidly.
“In our process, we have a doubling time of only 24 hours. Meanwhile, the difficulty with using PSCs is that it can be more challenging to change them from stem cells into more specialised cells, such as muscle or fat. However, by using these cells in combination with patented opti-ox™ technology, we’re able to produce real muscle and fat cells that are fully differentiated in just days. So, we know we have the technology and processes in place to scale our business rapidly.”
Commercialised by synthetic biology company Bit.Bio, a Cambridge University spin-off founded in 2016, opti-ox™ is a patented precision cellular reprogramming technology, typically used for biomedical applications.
The speed and efficiency of Meatable’s manufacturing process is crucial to driving down operational costs and becoming price competitive with conventional meat. This, in turn, will be essential to winning over consumers as they make their purchasing decisions in the supermarket aisles.
“If we can't achieve this, it will remain something that only wealthy people can afford, making it incredibly difficult to encourage consumers to embrace cultivated meat in their diets,” says Luining.
“Therefore, we are continuously trying to improve our process: increase our cell densities even more, achieve a higher doubling rate, and increase our differentiation productivity to make the highest-quality, affordable cultivated meat possible.”
Tackling an environmental urgency: ‘It’s time to diversify’
There is an environmental urgency to reduce the conventional production and consumption of meat around the world, Luining says – even if the majority of consumers do not feel the need to eat less meat.
“In the US and Europe, [...] there has not been any significant decline in meat consumption per capita, despite the negative impacts of the meat industry on the planet. Many consumers do not feel the urgency or have grown too accustomed to eating meat. However, the world is growing and so is our demand for protein.”
Meatable’s aim is not to completely eliminate animal-derived meat from the agri-food supply chain; the co-founder thinks that cultivated meat should be part of the solution, not the only one: “It’s time to diversify approaches to meat production, including where and how it can be produced.”
That said, Luining does have big ambitions for the startup. Asked where he sees Meatables in less than 30 years from now, he predicts its products will be widely available in stores and restaurants worldwide and at a competitive price point with traditional meat.
“We have a substantial market share and are well-positioned between plant-based alternatives and traditional meat. We have production facilities all over the world and are a trusted and loved employer. And most importantly - we have saved millions of animal lives and made a substantial contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
To benefit from a 20% delegate discount to attend the Future of Protein Production and hear Daan Luining speak, use this code when making your booking: FIGI20