Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA after raising $2.2m in a seed funding round co-led by Tyson Ventures - the venture arm of meat giant Tyson Foods – FMT founder Professor Yaakov Nahmias said: “We can get the price down probably in about 6-8 months to about $8/kilo, which is a huge step forward, as we are at around $800/kilo now.
“Our distributive business model makes us very appealing because we are basically mimicking the business model that’s already in place in the meat and poultry industry [whereby Tyson, for example, supplies birds, feed and technical advice to independent farmers it contracts with who raise and house chickens and sell the meat back to Tyson, which then processes it at centralized facilities].
“So in the same way, we would go to a farmer that might currently be raising 50,000 chickens in a barn and say you can produce this much chicken using our technology [banks of bioreactors that can be fed with ‘starter’ tissue produced by Future Meat].”
He added: “We want to go from several kilos per week to several tons per week over the next year. The first facility we’ll build will be using mainly off the shelf equipment, but after Series A we will need to go off the grid to design equipment designed for food production rather than biological manufacturing for medical uses. Most of [clean meat production] facilities today are kind of overkill for food manufacturing purposes.”
Testing the ground at Machneyuda
While building up a network of farmer/producers that can produce clean meat will take time, Future Meat Technologies will likely initially launch products at high-end restaurants so it can show the world what it is doing and gauge consumer interest on a small scale before the technology is scaled up, said Prof Nahmias, who is working on both beef and chicken.
“This is one of the reasons we are thinking about launching our product first at the Machneyuda restaurant, one of the top restaurants in Israel. One of the chefs there is working closely with us to launch their first cultured dish before the end of this year, so that’s very exciting.”
Tyson has been showing growing interest in emerging technologies
Asked about out the significance of Tyson’s investment (Tyson Ventures has also invested in US cultured meat company Memphis Meats and plant-based firm Beyond Meat), he said: “Tyson has been showing growing interest in emerging technologies, especially those that will enable it to both extend its market in areas without water and land resources to raise animals for meat.
“But it’s also looking at different [plant-based] alternatives that will enable them to supply healthier foods to consumers with a lower environmental impact.
“I think Tyson realizes that traditional animal agriculture has really reached capacity, and if we want to continue to feed more people and grow new markets we need to start investing now in emerging technologies.”
Asked about the nature of the collaboration, he said: “It’s a growing relationship and we are learning a lot from them. For example, we need to learn from Tyson how we take the raw material we are producing – cellular biomass – and how to integrate it into standard supply chains for chicken nuggets, sausages, hot dogs and so on.
“And Tyson needs to understand how this technology and this new raw material will change its supply chain, and how to integrate it into their products.”
I’m not interested in making a $20,000 steak
So how does Future Meat Technologies stack up against the growing number of start-ups in the burgeoning clean meat space (Mosameat in the Netherlands, Aleph Farms and SuperMeat in Israel, Memphis Meats, Finless Foods , Wild Type and Just Inc in the US, and Integriculture in Japan, among others)?
“There is a lot of space in this market, and lots of companies popping up in this field, which is a good thing, but several things make us unique,” claimed Prof Nahmias.
“Our cell lines are not genetically engineered, and we also have a complete protocol to grow cells into fat because that’s key to the flavor and aroma of meat. We also have a production model that allows us to recycle the growth medium very efficiently.”
While Future Meat technologies is using mesenchymal stem cells, which can differentiate into both myocytes (muscle cells) and adipocytes (fat cells), some other companies are using satellite stem cells that can only make muscle, or they are using genetic engineering to immortalize cell lines so they can function as a consistent, indefinitely reproducing source of meat, and some consumers have issue with genetic engineering in food production, claimed Prof Nahmias.
“Some companies are making vascularized 3D tissue, but the problem with stem cells is that they are not stable and growing them can cost a lot of money, so if someone asks me, can you make a steak with all the different cell types, I’d say yes, but I’m not interested in making a $20,000 steak.”
Asked about the challenges of negotiating the regulatory framework for cultured meat in different countries given the recent conversation about whether new legislation is required in the US market, he said: ‘I don’t see regulation being a roadblock to this technology.
"I think in Israel it will be relatively easy and we’ve also started speaking with the FDA [in the US]. The nice thing about our process is that all of our materials are already approved for use in food and the fact that our cell lines are not genetically modified also makes things easier.”
Jersualem-based Future Meat Technologies was founded by Yaakov Nahmias, a professor of bioengineering at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a specialist in tissue engineering techniques refined from regenerative medicine. Its technology is based on Prof. Nahmias' research at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and is licensed through Yissum, the Technology Transfer Company of The Hebrew University.
The recent $2.2m funding round was supported by Tyson Ventures, Israeli food conglomerate the Neto Group, Chicago-based VC fund S2G Ventures , Chinese food tech VC fund BitsXBites, New York-based HB Ventures, and Agrinnovation, an Israeli investment fund founded by Yissum.
Future Meat Technologies does not use animal serum (the liquid part of blood) in its process (some start-ups growing cultured beef, for example, began by using fetal bovine serum, a byproduct of the livestock industry, although they have since claimed to have validated animal-free alternatives).