Cell-cultured meat refers to meat grown in labs, using cells from live animals. Having emerged from cell-culture applications such as antibody protein therapeutics, cell-based therapies, and regenerative medicine, cell-cultured meat technology promises sustainable and humane alternatives to slaughtered meat.
Despite the promising potential of cell-cultured meat, the industry continues to grapple with significant hurdles that hinder its widespread adoption. Slow regulatory approvals and the challenges of scaling up industrial production, primarily driven by high costs, have delayed mass commercialization. While a breakthrough was achieved with Eat JUST's "chicken bites" becoming the first cell-cultured meat product to enter the Singaporean market in December 2020, it took nearly three years for the US to follow suit and become the second country to approve the sale of cultivated meat products.
The meat shortage in the US led by the closure of meat processing plants during the Covid-19 pandemic and the rise in prices due to surging feedstock prices and labor shortage has drawn attention to cell-cultured meat production, a more sustainable method of sourcing meat proteins with a minimum impact on the environment. Moreover, concerns surrounding zoonotic diseases like salmonella and e. coli in the US, as well as recent Swine Flu outbreaks in China, are expected to drive increased demand for animal-free agricultural alternatives.
Most of the startups in the cell-cultured space are manufacturers of finished imitation beef and pork products with a smaller group focusing on the production of specialty items such as wagyu beef, bluefin tuna meat, and foie gras. A limited number of traditional meat processing and convenience food manufacturing incumbents have begun investing in the cell-cultured meat space.
The industry’s supply chain is also gradually taking shape, and new startups and incumbents developing supply side expertise should retain a significant advantage as the industry progresses.
Cell-cultured meat production is a novel technology that only a few startups have achieved, and as such, incumbents in the industry have not yet demonstrated much expertise in the field. Hence, most incumbents have entered the space through strategic investments and partnerships. On the other hand, cell-cultured meat startups lack the expertise in the relevant supply chains, most notably in raw material sourcing, which has in turn driven the need for partnerships with incumbents.