Under a non-binding, non-exclusive memorandum of understanding, both companies will collaborate to identify and develop “new and improved” ingredients and components for use in Believer Meats’ proprietary cell-cultivation technology, and the inclusion of Believer Meats’ cells in ADM products.
While the MOU is focused on “research and discovery,” ADM will hold the rights to manufacture and commercialize any products resulting from the collaboration, and “if everything goes well, the next step will be more definitive agreements about how to bring manufacture and commercialize those products in the future,” explained Leticia Gonçalves, president of ADM’s Global Foods.
“ADM is really focused on addressing critical needs of food, including food security, nutrition, wellbeing and sustainability, especially as you think about the growing population about reach 10 billion by 2050, and consumers really looking to increase their protein intake and the diversity of their protein sources. Working with value chain partners, like Believer Meats, will help address those needs and really drive the convergence of bringing more alternative proteins – from cell-based and fermentation or insect-based – nutrition, health and sustainability,” she told FoodNavigator-USA.
Believer Meats CEO Gustavo Burger added that “partnering with ADM will give us access not only to co-development of products, but their deep knowledge about texture, taste, and nutrition” to create products that consumers want and will purchase repeatedly rather than just once for novelty.
The partnership also gives Believer Meats access to ADM’s scale both in production and procurement, which will help lower the cost of cell-based products, which is a significant challenge facing the entire cultivation category.
“We are super, super excited about the potential to come to market at scale and at the right cost and the right quality” to drive long-term consumer engagement, Burger added.
Initial products could come as soon as next year
By working together, the duo say they hope to bring initial products to market in 2024, with larger scale production taking a few more years.
But before they can do that, they must overcome the three dominating challenges facing the cell-cultivation space, including regulatory approval, product development and production at scale – all of which Burger says Believer Meats is actively addressing.
He explained that Believer Meats expects a greenlight from FDA “much sooner rather than later,” in the form of a ‘no questions asked’ letter, like those already granted to two players in the space.
“We are in constant interaction with FDA and we have submitted our dossier,” and are optimistic, about the first SKU, which will be chicken, followed by other species, he said.
As for producing at scale, Believer Meats “made significant progress breaking ground late last year” on a 200,000-square foot facility in Wilson, NC, that Burger says is the largest cultivated meat production facility with a projected output of at least 10,000 metric tons per year.
The final challenge – product development – is where ADM’s partnership will be an immense help, Burger said.
“We are a consumer-led company and want to bring products that matter to consumers, which is where ADM tremendously can help us on developing the final product with its capabilities in texture, taste, and nutritional value at scale,” Burger said.
Gonçalves added that initial products will likely be a hybrid combination of cell-cultivated protein and plant-based protein while production continues to scale in order to bring to market products at a price point consumers can afford.
“ADM has been working in the plant-based protein space for over 50 years and we have a lot of experience with taste, texture and nutrition in plant-based,” but now we are bringing in new technologies – like cultivate meat – to create an ecosystem of alternative proteins to meet different consumer needs, she said.
Market potential hinges in part on early storytelling
As both companies think through what types of proteins consumers want, Gonçalves says she sees significant market potential for cell-cultivated meat given seven out of 10 consumers are already familiar with the concept and about 50% of consumers consider themselves flexitarians who are open different sources of protein.
In addition to wanting more protein, Gonçalves says consumers want options that are healthier for them and the planet – which means future products will not necessarily closely mimic existing conventionally produced animal protein.
“They don’t want to just replicate animal meat today. They want options with better nutritional profiles, better sustainability and affordability,” she said.
To drive initial trial, Burger said the team will initially focus on foodservice where consumers can try the products prepared in a best-case scenario and at lower stakes.
Believer Meats also is not waiting to tell its story – including how it makes its products and their benefits compared to traditional animal protein – until its products are on plates. Rather, Burger said, the company is “building a robust storytelling agenda now that helps convey the whole education process so once we are ready to launch we already have broad awareness” and consumers are comfortable and excited.