Finding the perfect substitute for your meat seems like a mind twister. It’s not just about taste; meat lovers considering a move to the “artificial meats” side will demand similar texture, tenderness, and smell. More importantly, scientists attribute the need for meat to its unique mixture. Rutgers University nutritional sciences expert Paul Breslin describes this as a blend of fat and umami, a Japanese word that means the savory or meaty taste of foods. Recreating such powerful stimuli hasn’t been easy, but as the processes improve and investments pour into the alternative meats industry, the results will continue turning heads.
Countries like Israel and Singapore are at the forefront of meat alternatives, particularly cultured meats. Whether it’s a 3D printed substitute for fish, chicken, pork, or cow’s meat, these countries want them as part of their food services.
In 2021, Forbes clearly described how Singapore is in a race to attract meat alternative companies due to the lack of locally produced foods. The move is expected to help this very small, heavily urbanized island city-state in Southeast Asia attract plenty of alt-protein players to create a more resilient food ecosystem, which currently imports over 90% of its food.
On the Middle Eastern front, Israel is a powerhouse of alt-meat companies, racing to develop an alternative to just about any animal-derived product, from meat to milk and eggs. With roughly 100 alternative protein companies active in Israel, over 40 percent of those alone have the breakthrough technology that could shape the future of protein.
Here, we discuss the eight players leading the 3D printed meat revolution.
One of the pioneering firms in this up-and-coming segment is the Israeli startup Aleph Farms. It 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. A year later, it gained prominence when its experiment aboard the International Space Station (ISS) resulted in the first-ever lab-grown meat in space.
Established in 2017, this Rehovot headquartered business raised over $131 million in funding from more than 20 investors, including Leonardo DiCaprio. Ahead of an initial market launch around the end of 2022, the company is heavily expanding. Earlier this year, it opened a 65,000-square-foot facility located at Stratasys building in Rehovot. It also grew its portfolio of cultivated meat by adding a new product line of cell-cultured collagen (coming to market in 2024) derived from the cells of living cows and eliminating the need to slaughter animals for its production.
After hearing about cultured beef and chicken, it wouldn’t take long before a company developed a way to produce real seafood products directly from fish cells as nutritious as conventionally grown fish. Based in San Diego, California, BlueNalu relies on cellular aquaculture, a sustainable solution to farmed or wild-caught fish.
To create an artificial fish fillet, the scientists initially anesthetize the fish, and a tissue sample is removed with a biopsy. Then, the fish cells are placed in giant vats and fed special nutrients to help them multiply before being 3D printed. If the startup can scale production, it could supply fish alternatives to millions of people without the bones, mercury, microplastics, and antibiotics usually associated with fish today.
By challenging the global agricultural and seafood supply chain, BlueNalu is paving the way for cell-cultured seafood as a global solution and plans to commercialize its flagship products in 2023.
Aiming to provide sustainable animal protein, Shanghai startup CellX creates cultivated meat products and plans to sell them at the same price as animal meat by 2025. Last year, the business debuted its product prototype, the first Chinese-made cell-cultured meat with a fibrous and 3D structure. During testing for the prototype of its flagship minced pork product, CellX also demonstrated three other structural product prototypes, namely, chunks of pork granules, filamentous scaffolds, and 3D bioprinted product prototypes.
Focused initially on domestic Chinese pig breeds, CellX quickly expanded to beef and poultry. A pioneer in cellular agriculture, CellX has now partnered with German food tech company Bluu Seafood to find solutions for the future of food. To move forward with the plan of eliminating animal meats, CellX is at the forefront of advancing the necessary regulatory approvals in China that will parachute investment, research, and ultimately, production of cell-cultured meat. Considering that China is the world’s largest meat consumer, CellX founders Ziliang Yang and Ran Liu believe there is great potential for the alternative protein market.
Californian startup Eat Just is selling cultivated meat. Its first product, a cell-cultivated chicken called GOOD Meat, was approved in Singapore for sale a year ago and is available at select restaurants. To create it, they use stem cells from chicken eggs, which can be cultured into the desired product. Once they have grown into edible tissue, they are then used to create a form of ink used by a 3D printer to layer it into normal-looking food. This way, the startup can create chicken-like products that taste just as good.
Eat Just has been around since 2011 when founders Josh Tetrick and Josh Balk decided to venture into vegan mayo, eggs from plants, and overall plant-based alternatives to conventionally-produced egg products. Today, with over $460 million in funding under its belt, the business is looking at a post-money valuation of one to ten billion dollars, according to PrivCo. But, more importantly, its vision to build a food system that makes it easy for people to eat better is well on its way.
Fork & Goode
Launched in 2018, Fork & Goode translate tissue engineering technologies to making cell-based animal products (notably pork meat) without slaughter, damage to the environment, and with significantly fewer natural resources than the traditional industries.
Like many of its competitors, Fork & Goode starts by taking a small sample (no slaughter required) of muscle cells from a live animal, in this case, a Berkshire pig living on a farm in New Jersey. Then cells receive the nutrient-rich feed, just like a pig would, and by the time the cells reach the desired yield, scientists harvest the meat. Finally, partner chefs add their own flair and cook Fork & Goode pork in their favorite recipes. The startup stands on the shoulders of Garbor Forgacs’s work. A theoretical physicist turned tissue engineer, Forgacs pioneered 3D bioprinting to build functional living structures, tissues, and organoids. Moreover, he is the scientific founder of the first commercial bioprinting company, Organovo (now being revitalized by its original CEO, Keith Murphy).
After branching off from Modern Meadow, a biotechnology company that uses biofabrication to create sustainable materials, the startup began making pure animal proteins and fats that are clean, traceable, and delicious. This new approach to growing food has landed the company over $3.5 million so far, and they could start commercializing culture pork meat soon.
Future Meat Technologies
This year, Future Meat Technologies hopes to commercialize “delicious cultivated meat.” The biotech startup is a spinoff out of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and piggybacks on the work of biomedical engineer and entrepreneur Yaakov Nahmias. He is not just the founding director of the Alexander Grass Center for Bioengineering at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a faculty member at the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Harvard Medical School, but the first researcher to 3D print cells for the first commercial human-on-chip technology.
Through distributive manufacturing of fat and muscle cells (the core building blocks of meat), the business aims to transform global meat production into an animal-free reality. Following the opening of its first industrial cultured meat production facility in Rehovot, Israel, in June 2021, Future Meat began producing 500 kilograms of cultured meat products daily, equivalent to 5,000 hamburgers. According to the company, the small-scale production costs per pound of chicken and beef were $150 and $200, respectively, in 2019. However, the pilot production facility can bring down the cost of production to less than $10 per pound in 2022.
At the forefront of 3D-printed alternative meats, MeaTech (NASDAQ: MITC) is ready to take over the cultivated meat industry. Its alternative to conventional farming and meat results from an advanced and proprietary process that starts by isolating bovine stem cells from tissue samples and multiplying them. Next, the Israeli business formulates bioinks compatible with its proprietary bioprinting technology to print a steak structure. Once printed, the product goes into an incubator to mature and form the MeaTech steak.
Focused on developing a genuine replacement for conventional steak that maximizes cell-based content rather than non-meat ingredients, MeaTech’s cultivated steak comprises real, living muscle and fat cells and does not contain any soy or pea protein typically used in plant-based alternatives.
In 2021, the company acquired Peace of Meat, now its Belgian subsidiary, and established MeaTech Europe. Ending the year with the world’s largest-ever 3D printed cultivated steak, the company promises groundbreaking results. To propel the company’s go-to-market strategy, MeaTech partnered with the BlueSoundWaves collective, led by Ashton Kutcher, and plans to open a pilot plant in Belgium to accelerate the production of cultured chicken fat.
Singapore’s Shiok Meats works with 3D printing technology to add texture to synthesized lab-grown crustacean meat for human consumption. The first of its kind cultivated meat and seafood company in the country and the South-East Asia region, Shiok currently produces crustaceans like shrimps, crabs, and lobsters using cellular agriculture technology.
In early 2019, Shiok Meats unveiled its prototype, eight shrimp dumplings (Siew Mai) that cost S$5,000 ($3,600). Then a year later, it showcased the world’s first-ever cell-based lobster meat. Shiok is on track to commercially launch its cultivated crustaceans by 2023, at $50 per kilo. Likely to be in “minced form,” the final product will be launched in a premium restaurant in Singapore.
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