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Cell-cultured meat set to boldly clear US milestones

Two California-based cell-cultured meat start-ups look set to receive regulatory approval this year as the niche alternative protein sector edges closer to putting its products on dining tables.

There is definitely something sci-fi about the idea that you can eat a piece of meat, chicken or fish ‘grown’ from the cells of the real thing, but produced without the need to slaughter an animal.

It’s the type of thing you expect the space explorers of tomorrow – unable to voyage with their livestock in tow – to be eating as they travel to the farthest reaches of the solar system.

Space-age innovations must first be developed back here on Earth, of course, and this year could be an important one as various US-based start-ups eye end-of-year regulatory approvals and entry into a domestic meat market worth more than $100 billion.

California-based Memphis Meats, one of the frontrunners in the space which rebranded to Upside Foods in May, plans to launch its chicken product by year-end, when it hopes to receive regulatory approval.

The name change signifies that “the company is now ready for business with its first consumer product,” Upside Foods said in a statement. The company has attracted investment from the likes of US meat powerhouse Tyson Foods, Japan’s Softbank Group, Singapore’s Temasek and billionaires Bill Gates and Richard Branson.

Also edging towards regulatory approval this year from its California base is cell-cultured fish start-up BlueNalu, which secured a $20 million Series A in March 2020 and $60 million in convertible note financing in January.

The company has signed MoU’s with South Korean food company Pulmuone, Thai global seafood producer Thai Union and Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation – which also partnered with Israeli cell-cultured meat start-up Aleph Farms in January – all aimed at exploring opportunities and pathways to commercialize cell-cultured fish products in Asian markets.

“The UN anticipates a supply chain gap of 28 million metric tons of seafood production to meet demand by 2030,” BlueNalu president and CEO Lou Cooperhouse told Agri Investor in an email. “Investors have realized the growth potential for this space and are excited about the role that cell-cultured seafood will have in meeting consumer demand.”

“There is also quite a bit of interest from pension funds, sovereign wealth funds and other sophisticated investors who are concerned about food security and the opportunity to help achieve a sustainable food system,” he added.

Along with the news that GOOD Meat – the cell-cultured meat division of Eat Just that received regulatory approval for a chicken product in Singapore last year – secured a $170 million funding round in May and is gearing up for its US market entry; regulatory approval milestones look likely to be hit into 2022 as well.

GOOD Meat was able to add another string to its bow last month when Singapore’s South Beach JW Marriot Hotel signed a deal to exclusively serve the start-up’s chicken in place of the conventional product every Thursday.

It may well be some time before astronauts are eating similar products as they hurtle towards Mars – for myriad reasons that go well beyond innovations in food – but advocates would argue that Singapore’s JW Marriot is a very good start.