A game-changer for the alternative meat sector…’ Mission Barns raises $24m to scale up cell-cultured fat tech, build pilot plant

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Picture credit: Mission Barns
Picture credit: Mission Barns

Related tags Mission Barns

Berkeley-based startup Mission Barns – which has developed a platform to grow fat from animal cells, outside of the animal - has raised $24m in a Series A round to help scale up its technology and build a pilot plant due to become operational later this year.

"The pilot plant in the Bay area is to enable initial launches and to manufacture our own products in certain categories,​" Sachin Ajith, director of commercialization told FoodNavigator-USA.

Longer term, however, Mission Barns​ (co-founded in 2018 by Eat JUST Inc colleagues ​Eitan Fischer and David Bowman) is “not planning to supply fat commercially as an ingredient to partners​,” said Ajith.

Our business model involves a more rapidly scalable approach of having partners with existing production and distribution expertise license our technology and build their own cultivated ​[aka cell-based, cell-cultured] fat manufacturing capacity in various countries.

“We are working with a limited number of partners to which we'll license our technology, with the goal of positioning each as the leader in their relevant category and geography. By utilizing real, sustainable animal fat we enable partners to make best-in-class products that consistently outperform the plant-based incumbents.”

‘Our partners are predominantly conventional and plant-based meat producers’

He added: “Our partners are predominantly conventional and plant-based meat producers; we are currently in joint development with numerous companies ranging from leading plant-based brands and innovative startups to top global meat companies.

In all of these cases we are the first (and only) company with cultivated technology with whom they have done this type of joint product development, which is due to our advanced technology, and our business model positioning within the industry.”

 “Time and again, we see that the addition of Mission Fat to plant proteins makes alternative meat products in any number of categories far outperform the incumbent plant-based​ options.” Eitan Fischer, CEO, Mission Barns

‘Dozens of alternative meat companies have reached out’

Meat alternative brands typically use a combination of hard fat such as coconut oil, and liquid fats such as canola or sunflower oil in their burgers and sausages. However, even a small amount of animal fat can transform the function, flavor, and mouthfeel of a plant-based product, claimed Ajith.

But do these brands - even if they are targeting regular meat-eaters rather than strict vegans and vegetarians - want to incorporate animal fat (made from real animal cells) into their foods, even if no animals were harmed or killed in order to produce them, as they would not be able to describe their burgers and sausages as ‘plant-based’ or ‘vegan’?

And will the 'hybrid' trend of combining animal and plant/fungi ingredients engage, or confuse consumers?

“This is one of our most exciting developments over the past few months,” ​said Ajith. 

“Dozens of alternative meat companies have reached out because they understand that fat equals flavor ​[applications include bacon, breakfast patties, burgers, nuggets, dumplings, hot dogs, poultry sausages, meatballs, and more]. Our technology allows them to solve the central hurdle consumers cite to adopting more alternative meats.”

'Our animal fat is also usable for many other applications including cosmetics and other non-meat food products'

Asked about applications of Mission Barns’ technology in cell-cultured meat, he said: “We started with fat because our goal is to get to large scale production as fast as possible, and fat grows more efficiently and cheaply than muscle. That's why we are currently focused on partnering with companies who are experts in plant protein production and distribution.

“However, much of our technology platform is applicable to producing multiple types of meat in the future, whether with partners or on our own.Our animal fat is also usable for many other applications including cosmetics and other non-meat food products.”

The regulatory path forward

So what’s the regulatory pathway for Mission Fats in the US market?

“The regulatory process for cultivated fat is similar to cultivated muscle ​[for which the USDA and FDA are building a joint regulatory framework*], said Ajith. “However different product applications may have different oversight requirements. For example, products that contain animal fat, but are otherwise predominantly plant-based, are treated differently than pure meat products which fall under USDA jurisdiction.

“So our products will likely involve a simpler, more straightforward process.”

As to the progress Mission Barns is seeing in bringing down the cost of animal-free growth medium – ​the nutrient bath cells need to proliferate and differentiate, he said: “We have made very significant progress in bringing down the cost of the growth media over the past couple of years.”

Nick Cooney, Lever VC: ‘I have never tasted anything as meat-like as products containing Mission Fat’

Global food and agriculture investors participated in the round, including Lever VC; Gullspang Re:Food (Oatly); Humboldt Fund (NotCo & Geltor); Green Monday Ventures (Beyond Meat & Perfect Day); Enfini Ventures (Impossible Foods & Memphis Meats); and a European meat company. Other investors in the round included Blue Ledge Capital; Prithvi Ventures; and Joyance Partners.

A number of seed investors also increased their stake in the company including Global Founders Capital (Facebook & LinkedIn); Point Nine Capital (Delivery Hero); Better Ventures; and Cantos Ventures.

Nick Cooney, managing partner of Lever VC, said: "I've been sampling plant-based meats for 20 years from a huge variety of brands globally, and have never tasted anything as meat-like as products containing Mission Fat.

“This is going to be a game-changer for the alternative meat sector, because it's going to help brands around the world have a dramatically better product almost overnight​.”

Will plant-based meat companies want to add animal fat to their burgers, sausages?

Asked about the appetite for animal products in plant-based meats, even if they are ethically sourced (grown in bioreactors, not from slaughtered animals), he said: "I imagine they'll be a diversity of thoughts from plant-based companies, with many indeed not interested in losing the 'plant-based' status. That said, I know there are a number of companies including plant-based meat companies (separate from say major meat companies with plant-based lines) that are really interested in this.

"The fact that adding a small bit of the cultivated fat can instantly get products to a dramatically higher level of quality - and therefore a lot more interest and appreciation from customers - will I think be very motivating for a number of brands in the category."

He added: "I think we'll see the same thing in other categories as well [recombinant dairy proteins in plant-based ice cream and cheese].  If it adds a lot to the taste, texture, or functionality, while some consumers may avoid it, I think it dramatically grows the base of potential customers for their product, since for many consumers, taste is still the main reason they do not regularly eat plant-based products."

*Under a joint agreement​​​​​​ announced in March 2019 relating to cell-cultured meat and poultry, the FDA will oversee cell collection, cell banks, and cell growth and differentiation, with a transition to USDA oversight to occur during the cell harvest stage.

USDA (FSIS) will then oversee the production and labeling of foods derived from these cells.

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