Would you eat a burger grown in a petri dist? These companies are betting that they can build you a burger over the next five years that’ll not only be good for the environment but taste great
It’s Thursday night and all you want is a burger. Grilled up, medium and juicy on a soft bun and all the fixings. The addition of high-end chef burgers aside, the experience of eating a burger hasn’t changed much over the past century. Unfortunately, the process of getting that meat to your plate has.
Whereas farms used to produce a fairly basic amount of meat for the public, the introduction of industrial farming methods has put the whole process on steroids, quite literally. The number of animals that are crammed into farms has increased drastically in order to quickly raise enough animals under questionable conditions just to keep up with demand. When you take into account the waste that is produced and the natural resources that it takes to raise the animals, leading to adverse effects on the environment, it’s almost enough to turn you vegan. Almost.
Meat consumption rates are growing exponentially as the world gets richer and the prices go down. Demand for meat from Asia is expected to spike some 56% in the coming years, with other regions also continuing to rise.
So what’s the answer here? We could try to eat less meat, but that ship may have already sailed for most of the world.
Looking to bring a little technology and science into the mix on the hunt for a solution, there are a number of startups out there looking to replace the current model of factory farming with lab-grown cultured meats. By many accounts, we should be expecting them to
These companies are looking to grow real meat, whose origin comes from the cells of a real animal. The process currently involves taking animal serum that is sort of like stem cell goo and mixing it with the cells to grow the kind of muscle that you want, i.e. chicken breast, bacon, sirloin, etc.
The current is to move away from the model of using the serum since it still relies on animals and is not scalable for the long run.
With some of the advances in the research, some of the large corporates in the meat industry appear to be taking notice. It was reported in December that mega processor Tyson had opened a $150 million fund to invest in startups that are preparing for a meatless future.
So who are the companies that seem to be out in front?
1. Memphis Meats
Probably the best-known name around at this point, this San Francisco-based startup is looking to produce products for beef, chicken, and pork. It was co-founded by CEO Uma Valeti, CSO Nicholas Genovese, and BBQ Pitmaster Will Clem.
So far they have succeeded in putting together a couple of very edible looking products including their very well shared meatball.
In February 2016, the company announced the close of their seed round, bringing in $2.75 million from SOSV and New Crop Capital.
2. Mosa Meat
This company was founded by Professor Mark Post, a researcher out of Maastricht, Netherlands. Back in 2013, he made waves when he came on stage with his lab-grown burger, introducing the world to the concept of an actual burger that didn’t come from a cow.
While the responses to his burger were mixed, what shocked the crowd at first was the high cost of their early stage product, hitting an astounding price tag of $325,000. Thankfully, they now have it down to a much more reasonable $11.36, but know that if they will have to bring it down way more if they want to make an impact.
Professor Post has noted that it is primarily an issue of scale, and once he is able to grow in large enough facilities, it should become a much more economically viable product. Dr. Post’s research has succeeded in attracting the attention of big name backers like Sergey Brin of Alphabet who put in €250,000 to help fund the project.
3. Super Meat
Not to ones to miss an opportunity for innovation, this Israeli company has set their sights on replacing chicken through the work of Hebrew University Professor Yaakov Nahmias.
“I came to realize that, this is unsustainable,” says Nahmias on the importance of his work. “If I want my children to eat the same fried chicken that my grandma used to make, I need to develop groundbreaking technology that will fundamentally change meat production in the coming century.”
Last September they raised an impressive $229,269 on Indiegogo, receiving double the amount requested.
4. Impossible Foods
This company has hit the ground running. They have already roused the interest of Google. The tech giant offered to acquire them for a gigantic sum in the range of $200-$300 million.
“We’re a mission-driven company and Google has a lot of interests,” Impossible Foods Founder and CEO Patrick Brown said at Code Conference last summer. “We want to have control of our fate. It made no sense for us to be acquired by anyone at this stage.”
Is this the future?
This question is still very much up in the air, but it will likely come down to two points.
How does it taste, and how much does it cost?
So far the answer concerning taste is that it is getting better. Decent, but not there yet. If this lab-grown movement is going to be successful, then they will have to develop a product that people will be more or less happy to eat. While the concoctions should come to replace meat used for burgers at McDonald’s, your local diner, and other venues where we eat most of our meat, it would be unreasonable to expect it completely eliminate the use of real live animals.
So long as someone is willing to pay for it, it will be there. However, if these companies can reduce the larger demand for the industrially raised meats, then that itself is an accomplishment worthy of praise. Cost should be a no-brainer as production begins to scale. Removing cost of land, 90% of the water needed for traditional ranching, antibiotics, etc., will all help to make this a much cheaper product in the long run.
There will probably be some folks out there that might be concerned about lab-grown food in the same way that red flags have been thrown over genetically modified organisms (GMO). From what we have seen so far, the food is safe. They are, however, using some replacements to the animal serum that nobody is quite sure about when it comes to the long-term effects. This is because it is a proprietary technology that researchers simply lack the info on.
As a devotee of burgers, pastrami, and BBQ in all its forms who is also concerned about animal welfare and the environment, I hope that this sector takes off. History will judge us on how we treated the planet and our fellow creatures. With any luck, and probably a fair amount more funding, these startups and other will be able to lead to a situation where we won’t have to choose.
Gedalyah Reback contributed to this article.