A few days ago, Future Meat Technologies announced a milestone development, breaching the $10 price point for a cell-based chicken breast. It has been less than three years since Prof. Yaakov Nahmias founded the company. Since then, Prof. Nahmias, CEO Rom Kshuk, and the Future Meat team have established that Future Meat has the ability to produce meat grown from cells in a clean environment at a price point that nearly aligns with that of premium product grown the old-fashioned way.
This is a milestone for several reasons: first, and most importantly, the potential environmental and nutritional impact of cell-based meat is enormous; second, there is an increasingly competitive and heavily resourced race to be among the first to establish commercial viability in cell-based meat; and third, this and other recent developments suggest that cell-based meat is becoming a commercial reality and is no longer a technology perpetually stuck in the future.
The potential for impact generated from cell-based meat cannot be overstated. By some estimates, the conversion of feed to meat through conventional animal farming is one of the most inefficient processes employed by the food system today, with six or more pounds of feed needed to produce a single pound of meat. Contrast that with a cell-based production system, which has an effective conversion ratio closer to (or perhaps less than) one. This massive reduction in the need for feed, and equally massive reduction in the need for ranch land, results in an estimated 90%+ reduction in land use and water use (consider what else we can do with all of that land and water). With meat produced directly from cells, there is no living animal to eat, produce waste, have a brain, or be slaughtered, alleviating animal welfare concerns and resulting in a 80%+ reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The magnitude of these savings is immense – an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from meat could reduce as much as 10% of all manmade greenhouse gases, and a single burger made from a cell-based process can save more than 1,000 gallons of water.
The opportunity to produce real meat while allowing for these environmental benefits has been a dream for nearly a century (some say it received its first mention with Winston Churchill’s 1931 essay Fifty Years Hence) and a technology in development for decades. While previous endeavors focused on establishing that we can indeed make meat by growing cells in a controlled environment, only in the past few years have we seen companies like Future Meat establishing that not only can we make meat from cells, but we have a path to doing it at a cost that is affordable to the consumer. The meat consumer generates annual revenue for the global meat markets greater than $1.2 trillion today and growing. While estimates are just estimates for pre-market technology, they currently predict as much as 30% of that market could eventually shift to cell-based products in the coming 20-30 years, leading to a market opportunity of $250 billion or more.
As of this writing, no fewer than 50 companies are in pursuit this opportunity, and no less than $300 million in venture capital has been deployed to those companies. Many of these companies are focused on different facets of the market (different meats, hardware, grow media, brands, supply chain, and so on), but these companies and the industry must overcome a few common challenges in order to turn cell-based meat into a commercial success. The challenges fall into the two buckets of technical feasibility and market acceptance. In the former, this is about cost – not just operating cost but also capital cost – can we produce a product at a price point that the consumer will find attractive? In the latter, this is about product quality and consumer acceptance – assuming we can produce an affordable product, will the consumer like it and be willing to pay for it?
Future Meat is a leader in addressing both of these challenges. They’re creating products that consumers will love because they provide the experience of eating real meat and they allow the consumer to make an affirmative statement about environmental health and animal welfare with each purchase. They’re doing it with an approach to production and infrastructure that sets Future Meat apart and continues to push us closer to bringing real cell-based meat, and all of its benefits, to the masses. We are thrilled to see Future Meat’s continued progress and continued development of the climate and consumer story that is cell-based meat.