While other startups have developed chicken and fish cell lines that can proliferate in liquid suspension in a bioreactor without having to adhere to something (such as edible microbeads), SCiFi Foods believes it is the first to achieve this with bovine cells.
According to co-founder and CEO Joshua March: “If you're trying to grow cells in a bioreactor using microcarriers, you're fundamentally limited in the cell density, and so we don't think that an approach using microcarriers will ever be commercially viable at scale.”
The breakthrough – achieved through CRISPR gene-editing technology and the firm’s high-throughput cell line engineering platform – “unlocks a 1,000x price decrease to produce cultivated beef at scale compared to growing adherent cells, a landmark milestone for the entire space,” claims the firm, which aims to open a pilot facility by the year end.
SCiFi Foods estimates it will be able to produce a blended plant-based and cultivated meat burger (in which the cultivated portion will likely account for less than 20% of the burger) for under $10 at the pilot facility (capacity: 1-2 million burgers annually), with this potentially decreasing to $1 a burger in the “first large-scale production,” although it does not specify the specs for ‘large-scale.'
“A decade ago, when the first lab-grown burger debuted in the press, it seemed like a pipedream. So we are proud to be taking a major leap towards making cultivated meat a reality for everybody.” CTO Kasia Gora, PhD, CTO, SCiFi Foods
Fatty meat paste? A small amount goes a long way
But does a slurry of undifferentiated bovine satellite cells added as an ingredient to a predominantly plant-based burger really deliver on the promise on cell cultured meat for consumers?
According to March, who points out that the first wave of products in this space are all going to be hybrids for both cost and sensory reasons (cells that have not differentiated and matured to create muscle fibers, for example, have the texture of a “fatty meat paste,” not a steak), even a small amount of animal cells added to a primarily plant-based burger create a significantly more ‘meaty’ product.
“We're not selling this [the undifferentiated cultivated meat cells SCiFi Foods is growing] as a product by itself,” he told FoodNavigator-USA.
“We regard it as an ingredient. But if you cook it, it smells and cooks like meat and even a small amount has quite a transformative effect [on a predominantly plant-based burger], so we’re talking about pretty small percentages in terms of creating a product that actually smells and tastes really beefy.”
'What's clear now is that the market size for meat alternatives is fundamentally limited by taste'
He added: “What's clear now is that the market size for meat alternatives is fundamentally limited by taste, so we think we have the ability to be quite transformational in the meat alternatives space and we can do that with our blended approach, which is going to work for a lot of products.”
‘When I look at the technology that people are using today around 3D printing and scaffolding, I'm highly skeptical these will actually ever scale’
So is SCiFi Foods looking at more structured cultivated meat products down the line? “Honestly when I look at the technology that people are using today around 3D printing and scaffolding," said March, "I'm highly skeptical these will actually ever scale.
“However, there are companies who are working on some really interesting technologies that won't really be here for another 5-10 years, but which I think could actually make structured meat feasible at a commercial scale.
“By taking our approach we can rely on the plant-based protein cost structure, and then bring in the cultivated beef to create that flavor and fat and deliver the experience of actual meat. And we can do this without any of this novel tissue engineering work.”
GFI: ‘Growing cells in suspension will allow cultivated meat manufacturers to achieve higher cell densities’
Asked to comment on SCiFi Foods’ tech breakthrough, Elliot Swartz, PhD, lead scientist, cultivated meat, at the Good Food Institute, told us: “Growing cells in suspension will allow cultivated meat manufacturers to achieve higher cell densities, which techno-economic studies indicate has a strong influence on production costs.
“These same studies indicate that other cell line traits such as metabolism will also need to be optimized. The cell line engineering platform developed by SCiFi Foods can thus serve as the foundation for endowing cells with traits that will lead to more cost-effective cultivated meat production.”
- Read our recent interview with SCiFi Foods (formerly Artemys Foods) about the rebrand HERE.