Crenn will also serve UPSIDE chicken in her restaurant, three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn in San Francisco, which has not served meat for a couple of years owing to Crenn’s concerns about its environmental footprint.
“People are finally waking up to the downsides of conventional meat production,” said Crenn. “Chefs need to lead the way in making more conscious product choices. I am excited to be collaborating with UPSIDE Foods and am looking forward to bringing meat back to Atelier Crenn that is delicious and better for the world.”
‘The true test of this industry is not whether it can supply a single restaurant, but whether it can supply the planet’
The fact one of the first places to serve UPSIDE Foods’ products will be a high-end restaurant does not, however, mean that cell-cultured meat will remain a rarified treat, UPSIDE COO Amy Chen told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Our ultimate goal is to make delicious meat products available to everybody, whether they are eating at Michelin star restaurants or fast food restaurants.”
Asked for her response to a recent interview in which Dr Pat Brown, founder of plant-based meat company Impossible Foods described cell-cultured meat as “complete vaporware” that “will never be done with anything remotely like the economics you need for food,” Chen acknowledged that the “true test of this industry is not whether it can supply a single restaurant, but whether it can supply the planet.”
But she added: “At UPSIDE Foods, we have dramatically reduced our production and input costs over the last few years. We expect costs to continue dropping significantly as we scale up production.
“We are completing construction on our first production facility and innovation center, which will be a major milestone in scaling cultivated meat. Ultimately, we want to make our favorite food a force for good.”
‘We can produce both full cuts of meat and blended products’
Asked whether – either for technical or cost reasons – UPSIDE Foods’ first products will be hybrid products combining cell-cultured meat (grown from real animal cells) and plant-based meat, an approach deployed by Eat Just in Singapore, Chen said: “Our first product will be chicken, the most consumed meat in the United States. We can produce both full cuts of meat and blended products. Stay tuned for announcements on what our first products will be.”
While Crenn is UPSIDE Foods’ first partner, the company plans to team up with additional chefs and restaurants in the US, followed by commercial rollouts in grocery stores and markets worldwide, said Chen, a former PepsiCo executive who told this publication in June that cell-cultured meat is arguably easier for consumers to get their heads around than products made via some other emerging technologies in the 'alternative' protein space.
“There's something about real meat that I think just has a natural resonance with consumers that doesn't require a lot of explanation."
The addressable market for cell-cultured meat
Chen, who has described her first taste of UPSIDE Foods’ cell-cultured meat as “simultaneously one of the most unremarkable things and one of the most remarkable things I've ever eaten… it’s just meat,” said her conversations with senior management prior to joining the firm earlier this year also convinced her that the technology is scalable.
“We had conversations around line of sight around some critical elements of scale, which made me feel really comfortable that this was the horse to bet on. Without getting into too many specifics, we're already starting to lay the plans for what a large-scale commercial facility and footprint would look like" beyond the pilot scale plant the firm is building in the Bay area to support its initial launch.
As for the addressable market, she said, tThe exciting thing about cell-cultured meat is that it has global appeal and it works on so many levels… for animal rights activists, for environmentalists, for people who are just excited about the next thing.”
Dr Valeti: 'We believe the majority of people are still craving real meat'
Speaking at the recent Future Food Tech alternative proteins conference, UPSIDE Foods CEO Dr Valeti, a cardiologist who founded the company (formerly known as Memphis Meats) in 2015 and has since raised more than $181m from backers including Bill Gates and Tyson Foods, said that while he is “a big supporter of plant based proteins... We believe the majority of people are still craving real meat.”
UPSIDE Foods’ pilot plant in the East Bay area of San Francisco – will “produce, package and ship cultured meat at a larger scale than any other company in the industry, all under one roof,” says the company, which is billing its wares as “delicious, sustainable and humane meat for everyone.”
Cell-cultured meat vs plant-based meat
Asked in a recent interview whether it makes sense to reproduce (albeit more ethically and sustainably) a product that many commentators believe is fundamentally unhealthy (processed meats) rather than encouraging consumers to reduce meat consumption or switch to plant-based alternatives, UPSIDE Foods communications director David Kay said: “There is always going to be a part of humanity [that wants animal meat] as it’s such a key part of our social traditions and cultural heritage.”
As for health, he claimed, cell-cultured meat does not carry the same risks of bacterial contamination, while UPSIDE Foods is also confident that commercial-scale production of cultured meat will be possible without antibiotics.
“I have long-admired Dominique’s passion for sustainability. She is relentless in her pursuit, without ever compromising on flavor or creativity, and we are honored to have a chef of her caliber join us as we prepare to debut UPSIDE Chicken to the world.”
Uma Valeti, founder and CEO, UPSIDE Foods (pic credit: UPSIDE Foods)
Regulatory and labeling in the US… what happens next?
So, when will there be more clarity over the regulatory framework for cell-cultured meat in the US?
UPSIDE Foods started conversations early with the USDA and FDA, who announced a joint regulatory framework for cell-cultured meat in early 2019 and have since set up working groups on pre-market assessment; labeling and claims; and the transfer of inspection authority.
An FDA spokesperson told FoodNavigator-USA that it “intends to issue draft guidance on the pre-market consultation process,” although it did not provide a timeline, adding: “The FDA is actively working in this space and consulting with a number of companies interested in bringing cultured animal cell food products to the U.S. market.
"We cannot comment on the status of individual consultations that are in progress. However, FDA intends to communicate publicly once the FDA consultation is complete.”
As for the second working group covering the transfer of jurisdiction from FDA to USDA at the cell harvest stage, the spokesperson said: “FDA and USDA-FSIS continue to work together to prepare for shared oversight of cell culture facilities involving cultured livestock or poultry cells used for human food.
"Given that the agencies currently coordinate on oversight in the field in a number of situations, and that both agencies intend to use existing authorities and tools, we do not expect there will be a need for any detailed public announcement of particular procedures.”