Quoting ‘people familiar with the deliberations’, a Bloomberg report claimed the Swiss giant has been working on alternative meat products that would blend cultivated meat with plant-based ingredients and allow the company an early mover advantage in a sector that may reach 35% of the $1.8 trillion meat market by 2040, according to analysts at Kearney, a consultancy.
In response, Nestlé said it is looking to ‘understand the potential of future meat alternatives’ and is ‘closely monitoring scientific trends and exploring emerging technologies’.
“The company is evaluating innovative technologies to produce cultured meat or cultured-meat ingredients with several external partners and start-ups,” it said in a statement. “Such novel technologies can lead to more environmentally friendly products.”
It revealed its scientists at Nestlé Research in Lausanne are working with Future Meat Technologies, ‘to explore the potential of cultured-meat components that do not compromise on taste or sustainability’.
No cell-based meat product has yet to apply for a Novel Foods Application in Europe. But supporters of this nascent but quickly growing sector are bullish on its prospects. Eat Just, the US company whose cultivated chicken ingredient has been approved for sale in Singapore, now the first country in the world to commercialize cell-based meat products, reckons its product will get regulatory approval in Europe within two years.
Future Meat, which is gearing up for a US launch next year, pending regulatory review, has the backing of one of the biggest players in the global meat industry: Tyson.
It claims its business model – based on offering food manufacturers ‘grow-your-own cell-based meat’ -- will make cultured meat accessible and affordable at both the retail and consumer level.
The company’s initial plan is to create a blend of cultured animal fat combined with plant-based protein, which it will sell to food manufacturers globally. Then (providing all regulatory hurdles are jumped) it plans to begin selling the equipment, technology and ingredients to larger food companies and farmers to allow them to produce the product themselves.
According to the Nestle statement, Future Meat Technologies' “novel and cost-efficient proprietary technology can produce non-GMO cultured-meat components from animal cells, therefore reducing the need for land and resources to raise animals”.
'Animal-friendly alternatives that are nutritious, sustainable, and close to meat in terms of taste, flavor, and texture'
Nestlé would not comment on whether its explorations with Future Meat might lead to a potential market entry. Nor would it say if it has carried out a life cycle assessment of cultured meat production to discover the overall environmental impacts of the sector.
Reinhard Behringer, Head of the Nestlé Institute of Material Sciences at Nestlé Research said: "For many years we have been investing in our protein expertise and the development of proprietary technologies for plant-based meat alternatives, allowing us to continuously expand our wide range of tasty and nutritious products with a lower environmental impact. To complement these efforts, we’re also exploring technologies that could lead to animal-friendly alternatives that are nutritious, sustainable, and close to meat in terms of taste, flavor, and texture. We are excited to understand their potential."
According to the Swiss giant, consumers are increasingly reducing or eliminating animal products from their diet for many reasons including animal welfare, health and wellness as well as environmental concerns, which has led to the rapid growth of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.
“Providing people with delicious, nutritious, and sustainable plant-based products is a priority for Nestlé. Today, the company offers a wide range of meat and dairy alternatives that are suitable for flexitarians, vegans, vegetarians, as well as people with special dietary needs,” it said.
“By exploring breakthrough technologies, Nestlé is showing a strong innovation drive and openness towards novel concepts. This will help the company to continuously transform its portfolio with products that are good for people and the planet.”
A 'potential game-changer for the industry'
The Good Food Institute, a non-profit group that is working to support the development of alternative proteins including cultured meat, said Nestlé's plans to bring a hybrid plant-based and cultivated meat product to market could be transformative for the sustainable protein industry and the global food system.
“It appears that Nestlé is positioning itself to be the first global food giant to market with a hybrid plant-based and cultivated meat product. Nestlé’s involvement at this level could be transformative for the cultivated meat industry and should significantly advance what needs to be a global norm: delivering more sustainable proteins to consumers around the world,” said GFI Founder and President Bruce Friedrich.
“Nestlé is the world’s biggest food company, so this level of validation sends an unmistakable signal of the huge potential the company sees in the future of the cultivated meat industry. An investment like this from the global food leader could propel the industry forward and mainstream the idea of cultivating real animal meat from cells,” he said.
“Nestlé is one of the most well-known brands on the planet, so it is exciting to see the company reimagining meat. When Nestlé talks, the worldwide food industry listens. For Nestlé to see the potential of cultivating real animal meat directly from cells would be a game-changer for the industry.”
GFI’s Cultivated Meat State of the Industry report shows that 2020 was a record year, with 23 new cultivated meat companies launching for a total of 76 companies globally – up 43% from 2019. Cultivated meat companies received more than $360 million in investments in 2020, which is six times the amount raised in 2019.