If you keep an eye and ear to food tech, you’ll know there’s been a significant uptick in interest (and investment) for cell-based meat products. But what can companies in the space do to help cell-based protein scale to address issues like global food security and environmental sustainability?
That’s a topic FTW Ventures’ Brian Frank discussed at this week’s SKS 2020 show, where he was joined by Benjamina Bollag, the founder and CEO of HigherSteaks, and Justin Kolbeck, CEO and cofounder of Wild Type.
Since both Bollag and Kolbeck have founded cell-based meat companies (HigherSteaks is working on bacon and pork belly, Wild Type on salmon), they had a ton to say — more than can realistically be packed into a few hundred words.
Kolbeck summarized his advice by pointing to three things companies can think about: taste, affordability, and building the kind of story around the product that will attract your average consumer. For example, when we reach that far-off day where cell-based seafood is available at your local Publix, its branding might explain to shoppers that it contains zero mercury or antibiotics, or that it’s a more sustainable solution to wild-caught seafood from our oceans (which are overfished).
“The role of brands will be important to differentiate and distinguish between companies,” he said.
I say “far-off day” because no one is going to stroll into Publix tomorrow, or even next year, expecting to find cell-based meat and seafoods. All panelists agreed the timeframe for that reality is years away.
Part of the reason for that is the cost required to produce cell-based proteins. Bollag mentioned media — the liquid that gets fed to cells to make them grow — as one challenge. Growing those cell in bioreactors at scale is another massive hurdle, as is developing the scaffolding to give products the correct meat-like texture.
One thing that could address all of those tasks and challenges isn’t even a technology. It’s simply the concept of not doing everything in-house. A company that develops its own media, builds its own bioreactors, and simultaneously tries to navigate the regulatory challenges for cell-based meat is going to be slow in reaching commercialization. “Developing the IP yourself is not the most efficient way to do that,” said Kolbeck. Frank was even more to the point: “Cell-based [meat] companies cannot develop all the IP themselves.”
That presents a real opportunity for many kinds of businesses to get involved in the growth of cell-based meat, from those building bioreactors to companies developing cheaper serums to lawyers with expertise in the regulatory realm. All of those individuals and companies working together can help accelerate the timeline between now and when cell-based protein products reach our grocery store shelves. Only then can the planet and the population start to reap the widespread benefits of cell-based meat as an option.