The cultivated meat world seems to be trying to disrupt the $800 billion meat market by growing steaks directly from animal cells that are not genetically engineered or immortalized. One of the pioneering firms in this up-and-coming segment is the Israeli startup Aleph Farms. Better known for helping cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka successfully 3D bioprint meat on the International Space Station (ISS), Aleph created the world’s first slaughter-free steak made from cow cells in 2018 and developed a scalable manufacturing 3D tissue engineering platform, called BioFarm, to cultivate whole-muscle steaks. By reimagining the food system and trying to convince the average meat-eater that consuming animal steaks is not worth the environmental damage, Aleph wants to turn alternative meats into a global phenomenon.
Today, the Leonardo Di Caprio-backed startup announced a new partnership with two of Asia’s largest food companies to accelerate its scale-up and go-to-market strategy while increasing the distribution of its cultivated meat in existing marketing channels across the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. Through the new deal with global protein leader Thai Union and food and lifestyle company CJ CheilJedang, Aleph will help drive the adoption of cultivated meat in Asia.
Aleph’s Co-Founder and CEO, Didier Toubia, said the new partnership with two of Asia’s key players in the food market would help his company establish a new category of meat products. In turn, they could address the increasing consumption in the region, which is primarily fueled by the economic growth of the middle class. In fact, according to data from Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), household income growth remains a significant growth factor driving increasing global meat consumption, which is projected to grow at an average rate of 1.2% annually over the next ten years. This growth means that beef consumption across Asia could increase by 2.7 million tonnes in the coming decade, considered the largest gain across any global domain.
In a region that has historically consumed fish and other seafood, beef has become Southeast Asia’s second-fastest-growing meat category, with consumption expected to increase as much as 16% by 2022. Nonetheless, research from Thai Union and Aleph Farms reveals that 74% of Singaporeans and 97% of Thais are willing to try cultivated meat, fueled by several key motivators, like environmental benefits in Singapore and restaurant’s ability to trace the meat’s origins in Thailand.
Quickly developing into one of the leading businesses in cultivated meat, Aleph has been targeting the APAC region for a while. The startup already announced a similar agreement with Mitsubishi in Japan in July 2021 to deliver its proven BioFarm platform for cultivating whole-muscle steaks. After developing several successful prototypes, the business is currently working with regulatory agencies to move ahead with its commercialization plans.
Furthermore, to expand its product lines and technology platform ahead of an initial market launch in 2022, Aleph recently secured $105 million in a Series B funding round. The investment was led by L Catterton, the largest global consumer-focused private equity firm, and DisruptAD, the venture capital platform of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) ADQ sovereign wealth fund, and included the participation of Temasek, a global investment company headquartered in Singapore. The new funds will help expand its product lines and technology platform bringing the company closer to its vision of providing secure and unconditional access to high-quality nutrition to anyone.
“We carefully consider partnerships that reflect our core values and sustainability commitments, and both Thai Union and CJ share our resolutions for achieving carbon-neutrality and enhancing food security for all people of Asia and around the world. Temasek is an ideal investment partner with an intrinsic understanding of the Asian market,” said Toubia.
Asia is leading the global food industry in supporting and adopting cell-cultured meats, stated the company. Moreover, Singapore has become the first country to approve cultivated meat and offer it on a restaurant menu. In December 2020, lab-grown chicken made by California-based startup Eat Just made its historic debut at restaurant 1880 in Singapore after its food agency approved its commercialization. During the inaugural event, Chef Colin Buchan, who previously worked as head chef at Jason Atherton’s Pollen and with renowned British chef and restaurateur Gordon Ramsay, served the cultivated chicken as part of a trio of sample dishes priced roughly at $23.
CJ CheilJedang Chief Technology Officer of Food R&D, Sze Cotte Tan, said: “We are at the forefront of a trend in Asia food industry as Asian consumers show increasing interest in alternative proteins, and we have the opportunity to lead consumption patterns toward a more sustainable, resilient future that benefits all of Asia and the world.”
Similarly, Thai Union President and CEO Thiraphong Chansiri stated the company is closely tracking changing consumer demands and finding new, sustainable ways to meet increased global protein demands to respond to the growing population of the world.
Expected to be commercially available in months, Aleph relies on a bioengineering platform developed with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology to create its whole-muscle steak. The technology developed is a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak that mimics the traditional texture, structure, flavor, and shape of beef muscle tissue steak, claim the company. But without the need for devoting vast tracts of land, water, feed, and other resources to raise cattle for meat, or use of antibiotics, helping the startup garner strategic partners from the food industry needed to build a sustainable ecosystem for cultured meat.
Unlike 3D printing technology, Aleph’s bioprinting platform makes actual living cells that are then incubated to grow, differentiate, and interact to acquire the texture and qualities of a real steak. A proprietary system, similar to the vascularization that occurs naturally in tissues, enables the perfusion of nutrients across the thicker tissue and grants the steak a similar shape and structure to its native form as found in livestock before and during cooking.
The innovative proposal has attracted several high-profile backers, like environmental activist and Academy Award-winning actor DiCaprio, who joined the Aleph Farms family as an investor and a member of its Sustainability Board. Other alternative meat companies using 3D printing and bioprinting are also promising great breakthroughs in the sector. Still, up until now, it seems Aleph is one of the contenders to produce and commercialize the first cultured meat to millions of people worldwide.
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