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Memphis Meats, the Berkeley-based cellular agriculture company that famously grew the world’s first cell-based meatball in 2016, announced this week that it had raised an eye-popping $160 million dollar Series B round. That’s more than had been raised by the entire cellular agriculture and aquaculture space up to now. It also brings Memphis Meats’ total funding to over $180 million.
In some ways, this massive infusion of cash makes sense. Over the past few years cell-based meat and seafood has gone from futuristic vision to actually feasible reality. Cultured meat and seafood companies have demonstrated their potential though recent culinary demos and a spate of partnerships with large ingredient companies. Some have even released plans for giant production facilities that can churn out millions of pounds of cell-based meat per year.
But the key word here is plans. It’s notable that a company which has yet to bring a product to market — and could potentially never do so affordably or on a large scale — has raised such an eye-popping amount of cash. Even though it’s been given a vote of confidence by big-name investors like Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Tyson Foods.
We’re living in a time when investors are throwing cash at any startup that claims to be “disruptive,” with decidedly mixed results. Interestingly, Softbank, which recently went through its WeWork ordeal, led the Series B funding round for Memphis Meats. So is cell-based meat at risk of the same boom-and-bust cycle we’ve seen with other high-tech startups?
Frustratingly, without a product to market, it’s too early to say. I, however, am optimistic about the future of cultured meat and seafood. Studies indicate that one-third of U.S. consumers are open to trying cultured meat. That’s nowhere near the viral popularity of plant-based protein, but as cell-based meat becomes more commonplace — and proves that the product can be as tasty as the real thing — those numbers could rise.
One safe bet is that we can prepare to see a lot more funding funneling into cell-based meat and seafood. Now the pressure is on for those companies to put it to good use by actually getting a tasty product to market.
Should we stop bugging people to eat bugs?
Cultured meat may still be years away from our plate, but insects are ready to hop right on as our new source of alternative protein.
The question is, Will we (meaning Western consumers) ever get over our aversion to bugs and embrace the idea of eating them? The Spoon’s Head Editor Chris Albrecht pointed out a tweet from Mike Bird of the Wall Street Journal that basically said we should give up on insects. People just flat-out don’t want to eat them. I kinda agree.
I’ve bought cricket chips and tried roasted grasshopper occasionally in the past, but am I ready to make bugs an everyday dietary staple? No way.
I feel pretty guilty about that. We’ve all heard the preaching about how eating bugs is good for the environment, a healthy choice, and can be downright tasty. They’re available everywhere from high-class restaurants to protein bars. They’re even sold at baseball stadiums, for goodness’ sake!
But no matter how much we know we should learn to love insects, I’m skeptical it will ever happen. At least as long as we can see the insects that we’re eating. Maybe the solution is to double down on insect-infused spices and protein powder, which lets you forget you’re eating things with wings and antennae.
Or maybe, like Bird points out, it’s just time to give up. Let’s leave the bugs outside and focus on making protein from plants and animal cells, instead.
Protein Around the Web
- TurtleTree Labs, a Sinagpore-based company growing lactating mammary gland cells in a lab (which produce milk!), secured an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding.
- Sweet Earth Foods (owned by Nestlé) will begin selling its plant-based meats at so-called ‘Vegetarian Butcher’ deli counters at select supermarkets (h/t VegNews).
- JUST is releasing a pre-made frozen vegan omelet made from mung beans, which will be sold in grocery stores and foodservice.