Lab-Grown Meat Could Soon Be a $2.7 Billion Market
Though it may seem strange today, estimates suggest that cultured meat could make up 35% of all meat produced by 2040.
What Is Cultured Meat?
In February 2016, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first cultured beef product for human consumption, a hamburger that was made by food technology company, Memphis Meats. Memphis Meats’ burger is the first product made from cultured beef to reach consumers, but it won’t be the last. Cultured meat production, sometimes called animal-free meat, is made possible by cell culture, the process of removing cells from an animal and then growing the cells in an artificial environment. Cell culture and cultured meat has the potential to revolutionize agriculture. In April 2016, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations released a report that concluded cultured meat production alone could sufficiently feed the world by 2050. If meat production were to shift to cultured meat, the report estimated, it would eliminate the need to raise 25 percent of the world’s animals for food, and free up 25 percent of the land currently used for food crops. Cultured meat would also help stabilize food prices, lessen pressure on farmland, and decrease global carbon emissions by up to 15%. The cultured meat market’s potential to reinvent the agriculture industry has attracted significant attention from investors, making it a high-growth field that will host significant innovation for the decade to come.
Meat created through in vitro cell culture technology has been around for more than two decades, but it’s only been in the past few years that companies have started to take it seriously. The cultured meat market is estimated to be valued at $1.64 million in 2021, with projections showing that it could reach $2,788 million by 2030 — pinning this market at a staggering CAGR of 95.8% from 2022 to 2030. We are now seeing more and more companies pop up building against this technology as significant capital injection & fundraising is being deployed. On April 30th 2021, Israeli-based cultured meat start-up SuperMeat raised $25 million through its listing on the NASDAQ, making it the first cultured company to be listed on a US stock market. In toal, over $360 million was invested in the industry in 2020, including government subsidies. With many countries pledging to have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, cultured meat serves as a catalyst to realize this goal. Some countries like Singapore, which have pledged for more of their nutritional needs to be sourced domestically, are seeing cultured meat as an investment into their future.
Barriers & Major Players
One of the biggest barriers to the widespread adoption of cultured meat is its cost of production — a common reason skeptics doubt this technology’s estimated trajectory. However, with the recognized capabilities and upside of cultured meat, there has been significant innovation that is beginning to allow cultured meat to be produced at significantly lower costs. The Good Food Institute (GFI) published a techno-economic analysis in February of 2021 that estimated new cell culture technology will decrease the cost of cultured meat from $10,000 per pound to just $2.50 per pound over the next 9 years (a 4000% decrease in cost). Much of this reduction will come through improvements in areas such as cell bank maintenance, operations & maintenance, differentiation & maturation, and energy efficiency for cell proliferation. These improvements will also greatly impact cultured meat producers’ ability to scale, a feat that has been significantly difficult for years.
There are several companies at the forefront of innovation that is happening in the field of cultured meat. The major players include Memphis Meats, Just, Mosa Meat, and Future Meat Technologies. These companies have developed numerous methods for creating cell cultures, all serving as different routes to achieve the same goal of creating low-cost cell cultures. Future Meat Technologies, for example, uses sc-301, a plant-based cell growth medium, to grow muscle cells. Memphis Meats uses a single, simple ingredient — mycelium, the fungus-like material that grows on plants — to grow muscle, fat and connective tissue. Future Meat Technologies, a startup in Mountain View California, raised $26.5 million in a Series A funding round from new investor Khosla Ventures earlier this year, while Memphis Meats raised a significant $161 million. The startups are following in the footsteps of a long line of Silicon Valley investors, including Bill Gates, who are investing heavily in lab-grown meats and related products. “Cultured meat can reach cost parity faster than the market anticipated,” says Prof. Yaakov Nahmias, founder and chief scientific officer of Future Meat Technologies. “Our goal is to make cultured meat affordable for everyone, while ensuring we produce delicious food that is both healthy and sustainable, helping to secure the future of coming generations.” Those investments reflect a view held by many in the tech industry that meat, as we know it, will go the way of the buggy whip: irrelevant, unsustainable, and potentially unhealthy.
When Will Cultured Meat Become Common Place?
Now one of the major questions about cultured meat centers around when it will become a common item on the dinner table. While it probably will not be showing up on your plate next year, it is estimated that 35% of all meat will be cultured by 2040. According to some estimates, this could mean that cultured meat production globally will reach 1 billion pounds per year by 2040. Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies have both recently built new production facilities that will significantly expedite the process of cultured meat becoming a societal norm. In Japan, meat producer Toriyama and its export agent, Awano Food Group, have partnered with Just to distribute its cultured wagyu beef worldwide, while Singaporean Shiok Meats says that it will have a commercially viable cell-based crustacean product in the next few years. It is this scaling & distribution of cultured meat production that has made its potential appearance on our plates in the next few years a very real possibility.
Cultured meat is just the first in a wave of new, sustainable foods that have the potential to dramatically reduce our environmental footprint — and revolutionize our food system and the way we interact with the planet. It could make industrial animal agriculture obsolete, and bring in a new era of global sustainability.