Clean meat is one of the hottest areas of startup innovation right now—and for good reason. Conventional meat is extremely water- and resource-intensive, is one of the major causes of deforestation and carries a heavy ethical burden. Fishing comes with pollution, plastic waste, overfishing and harm to other aquatic life, most famously dolphins.
While vegan and vegetarian lifestyles are more popular than ever, it’s unlikely that most people will give up meat completely. This is where cultured meat comes in.
The world’s first cultured meat was unveiled by Dr Mark Post of Maastricht University in 2013; he famously created a lab-grown beef burger that cost a quarter of a million Euros to produce. Google co-founder Sergey Brin footed the bill, and the burger set off a wave of inspiration.
Today’s clean meat startups are tackling everything from fried chicken to foie gras, and many look likely to reach supermarkets and restaurants within the next five years.
HQ: Rehovot, Israel
Founder: Didier Toubia
Aleph Farms has set its sights on sending the world’s first cultured steak to market. At present, most startups are turning out paste-like meat that suits sausages, burgers or strips; a fully-formed steak or filet is a different game completely. What’s more, the startup believes that it will be able to cut the time it takes to create a steak down to just three weeks, compared to two years raising cattle.
Aleph unveiled its first attempt last December; it was the first lab-produced meat to have a muscle-like texture, but the flavour and thickness wasn’t yet on par with conventional steak.
Aleph Farms made its start through an incubator funded by the Strauss Group, which owns some of Israel’s largest food brands, including houmous and dip company Sabra. So far, it’s raised $14.4 million in funding—$12 million of which was raised this May alone.
HQ: San Francisco, United States
Founders: Michael Selden, Brian Wyrwas
Finless Foods is producing real fish meat from stem cells. To do this, the startup starts with a fish-derived serum and multiplies the cells in a controlled environment. The cells are then structured into fillets and steaks. While the finished product isn’t yet animal-free, it’s almost entirely cruelty-free and avoids contaminants, overfishing and ocean pollution.
The team’s first product is bluefin tuna, but over time it hopes to recreate other high-value fish species.
At present, Finless is the only startup making real headway on cultured seafood; most startups have set their focus on chicken or beef. As a result of this, the startup has had to work from the ground up and invent its own protocols. Their hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed: Draper Associates invested a tidy $3.5 million last June.
HQ: London, United Kingdom
Founders: Benjamina Bollag, Dr Stephanie Wallis
British startup Higher Steaks is focused on creating cultured pork that is super scalable and affordable. Founders Benjamina Bollag and Dr Stephanie Wallis are a chemical engineer and a stem cell regeneration specialist respectively, and Scientific Director David Hay is chair of Tissue Engineering at the University of Edinburgh. In theory, it should be easier to apply our knowledge of stem cells to pigs than to poultry or fish—so the startup is optimistic that it will have a viable product within a couple of years.
Higher Steaks hopes to bring its first product to market in 2021, with a year and a half being budgeted for food safety approval.
HQ: Tokyo, Japan
Founder: Dr Yuki Hanyu
IntegriCulture hopes to be the first startup ever to create foie gras from chicken liver cells. Founded by Yuki Hanyu, who graduated from the University of Oxford with a PhD in Chemistry, the startup mimics the liver and its blood vessels with tanks and tubes.
Collaboration is key: a research project with Tokyo Women’s Medical University aims to uncover how to create textures and fat in cultured meat, with a major goal being to create meat for astronauts at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. Hanyu also runs the Shojinmeat Project, an open-source guide to growing cell-based meat in your own home.
At present, a kilogram of IntegriCulture’s cultured meat costs the equivalent of anywhere between £150 and £1500 to produce. Ultimately, the goal is to bring that down to as little as £1.50.
Few clean meat startups can claim to have state funding, but IntegriCulture has received a solid $2.7 million from seed funding with the Japanese government as a major investor. Its cultured foie gras could be coming to restaurants as soon as 2021, and to consumers by 2023.
Just (formerly Hampton Creek)
HQ: San Francisco, United States
Founders: Josh Balk, Josh Tetrick
Just has its fingers in a lot of pies: the startup is best known for its vegan alternatives to eggs, mayonnaise, cookie dough and salad dressings, but is also experimenting with cell-based clean meat. While the startup initially announced that it was developing chicken, it has since shifted its focus to Wagyu beef. By working closely with an established Japanese farm, it hopes to create high-quality cultured beef that will be sold through the same channels as conventionally produced Wagyu.
Just has attracted $310 million in investments from some of Silicon Valley’s largest venture capital firms, and its growth shows no signs of slowing down.
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HQ: Leiden, The Netherlands
Founders: Krijn De Nood, Mark Kotter
Meatable is using stem cells collected from umbilical cords to produce cultured beef mince. By using umbilical cords the startup is able to harvest pluripotent cells without doing any harm to cows or their calves. Meatable also boasts that it is able to grow these cells without using foetal bovine serum, which is the most common medium used for in-vitro cell cultures.
Meatable only emerged last October and has already raised a respectable $3.5 million in funding. The startup plans to unveil its first product within three years, and then launch a fully-scaled commercial offering one year after that.
HQ: San Francisco, United States
Founders: Dr Uma Valeti, Nicholas Genovese
Memphis Meats has successfully made and taste-tested fried chicken, beef meatballs and duck from cells grown in labs. While the startup is a while away from an affordable product—as of 2017, the meat costs $5,280 per kilogram—the team believes that its products will be ready for sale by 2021.
Memphis Meats is already a venture capital favourite: the startup has raised more than $20 million in funding and counts Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Kimbal Musk as investors.
HQ: Maastricht, The Netherlands
Founders: Dr Mark Post, Peter Verstrate
Dr Mark Post made headlines in 2013 when he unveiled the world’s first burger made from cultured cells. Much of the press coverage focused on the cost of the burger—€250,000, funded by Sergey Brin—rather than the paradigm-changing achievement he had made. Still, Post set off a wave of startups inspired to grow their own meat—and picked up €7.5 million in venture capital for his efforts. Mosa Meat is the company he set up to explore cultured meat further.
In recent years, Mosa Meat has managed to eliminate foetal bovine serum from its burgers while adding myoglobin for colour and fat tissue for texture. The finished product should hit supermarket shelves by 2023.
Founders: Dr Sandhya Sriram, Dr Ka Yi Ling
The first startup of its kind in South East Asia, Shiok Meats hopes to bring cultured shrimp, crab and lobster to your plate. The startup raised $4.6 million in seed funding this April and has already unveiled its cell-grown shrimp, made into shao mai.
Lead investor Henry Soesanto is CEO of Filipino food giant Monde Nissin, which purchased Quorn Foods in 2015—and he reportedly gave the dumplings his thumbs-up. Soesanto was joined by several other big-name investors, most notably Y Combinator in their first-ever clean meat investment.
At present, it costs $5,000 to produce just eight dumplings, but Shiok expects to scale production and start selling globally in two to three years.
HQ: Tel Aviv, Israel
Founders: Ido Savir, Koby Barak, Shir Friedman
Israeli startup SuperMeat is working on growing clean meat from chicken cells in vitro. By eliminating livestock farms, the bio-tech startup believes that it can produce meat with 99% less land, 90% less water, no antibiotics and no chance of salmonella.
Founded in 2015, SuperMeat has raised $4.2 million in crowdfunding and seed funding so far.