Though plant-based meat has grabbed most of the headlines in alternative protein this year, thanks to Beyond Meat going public and Impossible Foods scaling up, lab-grown or cultured meat is having a banner year of its own. Case in point: Aleph Farms announced today that it has raised a $12 million Series A round of funding led by VisVires New Protein, with Cargill Protein and M-Industry participating as well.
Israel-based Aleph Farms is looking to make full-on steaks, complete with the same structure and texture as traditional meat. As my colleague, Catherine Lamb wrote last year:
To do that, [Aleph’s] scientists are working on growing four types of cells: muscle, fat, blood vessels, and connective tissue. While those last two might not sound very appetizing, Toubia said that they’re critical to replicating the texture of meat. Once they cultivate the various types of cells, they place them on scaffolds which act as a framework for the cells to cling onto. That way, the four types of cells can grow together into a finished product with the shape of steak — not just blobs of separate cell types in petri dishes that have to be manually combined.
Last December, Aleph unveiled what it called the first lab-grown minute steak: a steak made from cow cells in a bioreactor. Though the steak was only a few inches long and a few centimeters thick, The Wall Street Journal tried one, noting that it “passes” for the real thing. Aleph’s new money will go towards accelerating the development of this earlier prototype into a commercial product.
It should be noted that this is the second slaughter-free meat investment for Cargill, the U.S.’ third-largest meat producer. Cargill, along with chicken giant, Tyson, has also put money into Memphis Meats. Both companies are angling to be their own disruptor, rather than leaving that to some upstart startup.
The investment comes at a time when consumers are reconsidering the ethical and environmental impact of eating traditional meat. While sales of plant-burgers are booming right now, we are still a ways away from lab-grown meat reaching our dinner plates. Memphis Meats and Mosa Meat claim they’ll have their cultured meat to market by 2021, and JUST has said it will debut its cultured meat in Asia by the end of this year.
Before slaughter-free meat does hit the market, it will have to tackle its own set of hurdles like how it will be labeled and regulated. Most of all, however, these cultured meat companies will need to scale production to hit the mass market at a price point consumers can afford. Because unlike meat, money can’t be grown in a lab.