Cultivated-meat firms may have found a new target market

The noise surrounding cultivated or lab-grown meat is increasing all the time but the level of activity involving the end product far from matches the hype.

Hurdles, including the high cost of producing meat from animal cells, gaining regulatory approval and convincing customers and consumers that it’s something they need and want, are either still to be successfully cleared or yet to be approached.

For all of the food-tech, or just plain tech, businesses looking to make a name for themselves and for all of the investment money that has flowed into what some see as, depending on the level of hyperbole, the future of food and the saviour of the planet, months and years go by without many of these businesses being much further advanced than when they started out.

In November 2020, US-based cultivated-meat business Good Meat became the first company to win approval to sell meat created in a laboratory from cells when it was given the green light by Singapore’s regulator. The company, part of Eat Just, has since won similar approval in the US, alongside another company, Upside Foods.

However, as Josh Tetrick, the company’s founder, told Just Food in December 2023: “Ultimately, we want to make millions of pounds of cultivated meat but we need to do a lot of work on things like cell density and reducing the cost of the growth medium.”

Tetrick said his business was making good progress but added: “There’s no doubt it is a massive challenge to be able to produce it on a large scale. This is a significant challenge for cultivated meat.”

Lab-grown meat and pet food

If the companies that have already won regulatory approval and have an end product on sale – albeit in a very limited way – see it as a “massive challenge”, what hope for everyone else?

Well, there are signs that cultivated-meat firms may have found a new target, one that would allow them to get their product to market more quickly, to cut down on cell-growth costs and require a less rigorous level of regulation: pet-food.

In November, Czech Republic-based Bene Meat revealed it was targeting the EU pet-food market and claimed to be the first to have listed its cultivated cells on the bloc’s European Feed Materials Register.

No approval is required for animal feeds as long as they are safe and comply with existing regulations.

The Prague-based business, backed by medical devices company BTL, has been working on the development and technology of cultivated meat production since 2020.

Meeting the needs of pet-food manufacturers

Bene Meat said its pet food will be “full of pure, high-quality animal protein, without the need for a single animal to die in its production”. Its product, like those of other cultivated-meat manufacturers, is produced in a laboratory in bioreactors by removing cells from a living animal and then growing them in a nutrient-rich medium.

Roman Kříž, the company’s MD, said: “We know that at this stage of the research we have already met the needs of pet-food producers, who are constantly looking for ethically and economically meaningful ways to satisfy their demanding customers, pet owners, with their products.”

Price – especially of the growth medium – has often been a barrier to manufacturing at scale but Bene Meat said it has developed the technology to “produce cultured meat in such a way that the resulting price is competitive in comparison with the prices of products made from traditionally-sourced raw materials”.

“There is no inherent reason why it should be costly. It’s more a question of teething problems and problems of realisation,” Tomáš Kubeš, the company’s head of strategic projects, says. “Bene Meat intends to be a one-stop-shop so we have our own medium and cell lines.”

Without giving away company secrets, Vendula Kucerova, Bene Meat’s head of sales and marketing strategy, adds: “We have a cost-effective medium which means we can bring it to the market. Our medium with no FBS [foetal bovine serum] is something different.”

FBS is a by-product of the meat industry and is usually collected from blood at commercial slaughterhouses. Understandably, companies might want to distance themselves from this particular growth medium……

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