Closer to parity: Future Meat Technologies eyes India and China with cost-reducing cultured meat technology
The firm recently made headlines for first achieving a US$7.50 price point for a 110g piece of cultured chicken breast at the beginning of the year, followed closely by dropping this by almost half to US$3.90 in April.
“We have managed to bring the prices down quickly due to our proprietary technology, and importantly the process is species agnostic so this is not limited to just chicken but can also be used to make others like pork, beef and lamb,” Future Meat Technologies Founder and Chief Scientific Officer Professor Yaakov Nahmias told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“It’s the reason that at demonstrations, we are able to provide people trying our products with big, generous servings – whilst most other cultured meat or seafood companies out there are currently still at about US$40,000 or so per kg, we are at about US$40 per kg.
“Notably, this price for chicken is just for our pilot, even before we’ve scaled up, so prices are able to go down even further. We’re on the way there with pork at the moment too and the costs for that are dropping fast as well.”
Recognising Asia as the market most in need of new protein sources and also one of the most price-sensitive, the firm has also identified this region as one of its key target markets, and is zooming in more on larger markets in order to ‘really make a difference’.
“Our initial launch will be in our home ground Israel and then likely the US to build the brand, but I think it’s pretty clear to us that the next target will be China,” said Prof Nahmias, who is also a professor of bioengineering at Hebrew University.
“It’s pretty clear that the real opportunity to make a difference lies in allowing countries like China and India to produce their own meat, as these have been reliant on importing meat and beef to sustain their population and urbanisation so far.”
When asked why a market such as Singapore which has already approved its first cell-based chicken product is not the firm’s first choice, he added that this was due to size.
“Singapore is a really innovative market and a lot of companies are flocking there,” said Prof Nahmias.
“But it’s not really a huge market in terms of size, so to us it is a good stepping stone to China and perhaps getting into the right restaurants would make sense, but in terms of making an impact, the market is not large enough.
“The recent approval was for a product but not for the process, which still uses serum, and if we launched in Singapore we would be able to launch products at cheaper prices. So if we get approval there, we would still be interested to export product in and do a pilot with restaurants, but perhaps not yet a full market launch at this point.”
More on the technology
The firm’s technology banks on being different from other firms from a variety of different areas, enabling to save costs in multiple ways.
“From a biology perspective, we don’t use stem cells which are expensive and unstable but instead use connective tissue cells which are more cost effective and grow faster, and also means our products are GMO-free – critical for entering markets like Japan and the EU where GMO is an entry barrier,” said Prof Nahmias.
“We also have a process to grow the meat biomass via a single-cell suspension, removing the need for a surface or scaffold and getting much higher cell densities than others – combined, these two already make us 10 times more cost efficient than others.
“Adding on to that from a chemistry aspect, we also do not use regular serum proteins but have replaced these with plant proteins that do the same work – so for example albumin alone tends to takes up some two-thirds of the cost of what cells eat, and the industry usually needs US$150 per litre of medium, but we need less than US$5 per litre. That’s an additional five to 10 times more in cost efficiency.
“Finally there’s also our engineering technology which enables us to remove waste such as ammonia excreted by cells, allowing us to reuse the medium again and again, adding another two to three times in cost efficiency – so the combination of these biological, chemical and engineering technologies together are what have allowed us this low price of less than US$4 for chicken.”
Full price parity
As for reaching full price parity with regular meat, Prof Nahmias said that this would be dependent on the overall ecosystem as certain factors still need to be put in place to do this.
“For instance, to reach full parity we would need to not use any growth factors at all, as these make up the remaining one-third of the cost,” he said.
“We already have the technology to replace this, using small molecules, but then what comes into play is the regulatory process to approve these small molecules for food, which will take even longer.
“So our concept is to get the regulatory approval for the products they are first, then only move on to the small molecules part to drop prices even further as a next step.
“It also needs to be remembered that traditional meat is heavily subsidised from feed to water and so on – things that the cultured meat industry does not have right now, so reaching price parity will also depend on subsidies and other such factors.”
The firm is working on obtaining regulatory approvals from several markets in the United States and Asia, and expects it will be at least a year to get these.
“We’ll start with chicken, then very rapidly after that follow with lamb and pork as soon as we get the approvals,” said Prof Nahmias.