Year in review, 2023: Cultured meat fights for its place on the dining table

USDA approval for Upside Foods and Good Meat was a significant milestone for an industry that has a long way to go before it appears on a supermarket shelf near you.

Aleph Farms beef

Cultured meat has made continued progress over the past year in establishing a place for itself within the future food systems envisioned by investors, entrepreneurs and lawmakers.

Yet many hurdles remain for a product category only just beginning to offer a taste of its potential to consumers.

The more than 100 companies that have been established in the years since the first cultivated meat product debuted in 2013 have attracted more than $1.9 billion in investment, according to the UN.

The figure comes from an overview designed to inform lawmakers worldwide about developments in a market where Singapore and Israel established an early lead as centers of innovation, and have been joined by countries including Brazil, the Netherlands and others in providing support for an industry seen as a key tool in addressing the environmental impact of animal agriculture.

The major milestone this year was the USDA’s approval in June for cultivated chicken products produced by Upside Foods and Good Meat.

The news buoyed spirits at the Re-Think Events Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins conference in July, where panelists gathered in New York to take stock of developments in a market framed by a general downturn in tech following the highs of 2021 and significant slump in 2022.

Panelists compared notes about the factors shaping current and future consumer trends amid a broader acknowledgement that the pace of the cultivated meat market’s growth may have been previously oversold, and any scaling to come was most likely to be determined by the capital demands of a particularly complicated supply chain, which includes a need for bioreactors.

Providing consumers with a marketable product will be the necessary first step in addressing supply chain challenges, said Daan Luining, chief executive of Dutch cultured meat producer Meatable. He told Agri Investor in August that the start-up had to scale back its fundraising ambitions in response to “VCs’ reaction to when we asked for big rounds,” but the $35 million it did raise “was enough to show the progress toward market entry.”

He added the company is in the process of determining its balance between outsourced and in-house production and manufacturing. “We can see if there is a partner, or we can project finance or team up with other players, share facilities,” he said. “All those flavors become available once you have a marketable product. There are creative ways to combine efforts or partner up with someone to make sure you are not raising yourself into oblivion.”

Among the other positive milestones from the year were applications for approval in the UK and Switzerland by L Catterton-backed Aleph Farms.

Equally important to keep an eye on is the pushback the cultured meat industry received from Italy, with the nation choosing to completely ban production, sale or import of cultivated meat or animal feed. The government cited concerns around national agriculture and food heritage, in a development that showed the effort to expand market share might be more complicated than initially thought.

The year ahead will likely find some investors still eager to play a role in those efforts to combine creatively in a cultivated meat market still destined to play a key role in future food systems.