This week, Tyson Foods’ venture capital arm invested an undisclosed sum into San Francisco-based Memphis Meats, who is one of a few different companies developing lab-grown, cultured-meat alternatives.
Tyson joins DFJ Venture Capital, Bill Gates, Atomico, billionaires Suzy and Jack Welch, and several other investors. Those parties, along with heavyweight food producer Cargill, led a Series A funding round for Memphis Meats this past August that totaled $22 million.
Memphis Meats unveiled the world’s first cultured meatball in 2016, which was followed by the world’s first cultured poultry in 2017. The goal behind such products, along with those from companies like Mosa Meats, Finless Foods, SuperMeat, and Hampton Creek, is to offer consumers all the benefits of real meat without the environmental damages and foodborne illnesses associated with it.
To get it’s product, Memphis Meats uses on an ingredient called fetal bovine serum, a fascinating and slightly gross substance extracted from cow fetuses. The process of using fetal bovine serum won’t win the vegans over anytime soon, but it does enable the creation of an animal protein without the greenhouse gasses, deforestation, and host of other issues associated with raising livestock.
But cultured meat is expensive to produce, whether using fetal bovine serum or an animal-free method, as Memphis Meats is purportedly working on. Consider Mosa’s 1.2 million-per-pound lab-grown burger unveiled in 2013. And while the price of cultured meat is said to have dropped 99% since then, it’s still not low enough to make these products truly scalable (unless you’re okay with $6,000 chickens).
It’s technology that will eventually enable that scale. SuperMeat, for example, is developing technology to eliminate the need for animal serum. Finless Foods, meanwhile, has slashed prices by 50 percent and plans to have an affordable lab-grown bluefin tuna available by 2019. Memphis Meats aims to bring its product to market in 2021.
Lower costs will also make cultured meat a more realistic competitor to traditional meat products. Consumers spend about $1 trillion on meat globally, and demand is expected to double over the next few decades. Many are also betting on taste as the element that will convince traditional meat eaters to try alternatives. But it seems likely that alternative-meat producers will also need to offer competitively priced products in order to entice grill masters, tailgaters, and other die-hards.
I expect the future of alterna meat will be a combination of both lab-grown and plant-based products. Tyson’s investment in Memphis Meats also suggests we may see some acquisitions in the future, as more and more companies look to combine traditional meat products with science and technology to give the world its much-needed calories.