When will cell-based meat be available to the masses?
Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of Eat Just, reckons the timeline is “somewhere north of 15 years.”
Eat Just, which is best known at this point for its plant-based egg products, is in the process of developing its own cell-based meats, including chicken nuggets and chicken breast. The north-of-15-years timeframe for those and other cell-based meat products comes from an important factor Tetrick pointed out when we chatted this week at SKS: that a successful prototype in a lab does not automatically equal commercial success.
A lot must happen in between those two endpoints, prototype and commercialization, and during our talk, Tetrick broke the journey down into four distinct phases. These are as applicable to other food businesses as they are to Eat Just.
The first is getting that prototype out of the lab. Launching in a single restaurant is one example. To do this, companies need to have not only developed a prototype, they must also have gotten regulatory approval for their product. Tetrick told me that Eat Just hopes this step happens for his company this year or next.
The second phase moves companies out from a single location and into some restaurants, say 50–100, and perhaps smaller retailers. At the moment, there are no cell-based meat companies with products at this stage.
Phase three is even further off. That’s the point when a company’s products are on food retail shelves across the country, from Whole Foods in San Francisco to Walmart in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Eat Just is currently at this point with its plant-based egg products, which are in more than 17,000 locations in the U.S.
That final phase is what Tetrick calls “the Coca-Cola phase.” The product is available everywhere and at a low cost. He believes this is “the phase that will transform the planet,” meaning it will curb the larger population’s reliance on animal protein. To get to that kind of world, phase four is ultimately where Eat Just and other companies need to be.
Not that getting there will be easy. Tetrick doesn’t agree with Pat Brown’s statement that cell-based meat “is never going to be a thing,” but he does concede that it’s no easy feat. In fact, he equated the process from prototype to ubiquity with scaling a really tall mountain. “[It’s] not confusing what needs to be done, it’s just really hard.”
That climb, so to speak, will require the right investments in cell line development, media, and bioreactors. It will require “a thoughtful approach” to working with regulators and an effective marketing strategy. It will involve enormous amounts of risk and millions if not billions of dollars.
Ultimately, Tetrick believes companies that can get us through this enormously difficult process will enable the majority of the population to live in a world where eating meat doesn’t necessarily mean slaughtering animals or destroying the planet. For many, getting there will be a mountain worth climbing.