When talking about cultured meat (that is, meat made without animal slaughter), one of the first names that comes up in conversation is Memphis Meats. This Silicon Valley startup was the first company to start serious development in the cell-based meat space four years ago, and they are still on the cutting edge today.
We invited Memphis Meats’ Senior Manager of Communications and Operations (also its first employee), David Kay, to speak about the potential of cell-based meat at the Smart Kitchen Summit (SKS) next month alongside Lou Cooperhouse of BlueNalu. But we got a little eager, so we went ahead and asked Kay a few questions about the meat alternative revolution and how he thinks consumers will react to eating meat grown in a bioreactor.
Check out the interview below then grab your tickets to SKS. They’re going fast!
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Memphis Meats is growing animal meat without the animal. Give us a high-level explanation of how you do that.
We start by obtaining animal cells from high-quality livestock animals. We figure out which of these cells are most capable of self-renewal and which ones give us the potential to express the characteristics we desire with respect to taste, texture and aroma. Once we select these cells we feed them nutrients. The nutrients are, at a high level, the same nutrients that the cells would get in nature — amino acids, water, oxygen, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. The cells grow, multiply, and create muscle tissue (aka meat). At scale, this will take place in a facility that is similar to a beer brewery. We call this process “essential nutrition” because we can produce just the meat consumers desire and nothing more.
What’s the reasoning behind developing cultured meat?
With the global population expected to reach 10 billion by 2050, demand for meat is expected to double. But given the amount of resources modern livestock production requires today — a third of the world’s arable land and fresh water — we simply won’t be able to meet that demand. At Memphis Meats, we want to enable our food system to feed an increasingly hungry planet while preserving both the planet and cherished culinary traditions. We expect cell-based meat production will coexist with conventional meat production, and that together these methods will meet demand.
When will we actually be able to eat cell-based meat? When do you guess it will first enter the market and how long will it take before it’s available in your average supermarket?
While we are working as fast as we can to bring a product to market, we are also cognizant that our number one priority as a food company – and as a nascent industry – must be ensuring product safety and consumer trust. Key to this is establishing a sensible regulatory framework. We are committed to providing consumers with Memphis meat through appropriate regulatory channels. While other innovative industries might follow the “move fast and break things” Silicon Valley ethos, we firmly believe that our product release must be done in a responsible and transparent manner.
Why is communication such a critical aspect of the alternative protein revolution?
From the earliest days at Memphis Meats, we have seen communication as a crucial responsibility of cell-based meat companies, and a necessary tool for establishing trust with consumers. We had our media debut, including a viral video of the world’s first cell-based meatball, when we were less than six months old and had only four team members. Since then we have regularly updated the public as we’ve reached milestones in product development, regulation, fundraising and our growing team. We want to empower consumers to make their own decisions. We are confident that, if provided with the facts, consumers will be enthusiastic about cell-based meat.
What do you think is the biggest hurdle cultured meat has to face? Consumer acceptance? Regulatory issues? Labeling pushback?
We will be ready to go to market as soon as a regulatory path is established in the U.S. We are grateful for the speed and openness that both agencies have demonstrated so far in regulatory conversations, and we look forward to continuing to provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions.
Keep an eye out for more speaker Q&A’s as we ramp up to our fifth year of SKS on October 7-8 in Seattle! We hope to see you there.