Both companies announced June 21 that they received a grant of inspection (GOI) from USDA for their production facilities in California following approval from department last week to label their products as “cell-cultured chicken.”
“This is one of those moments that as an industry we have been working towards for so long and to those who doubted that the industry would ever become a reality – I think today just really clearly shows the future can be different from the past,” UPSIDE COO Amy Chen told FoodNavigator-USA about the USDA approval.
“In some really meaningful way, the world changed today. The way food makes its way to the table and meat makes its way to the table will never be the same,” she added.
A big step forward, but a long road ahead
The dual approval marks the end of a three-step, two agency, multi-year review process for cultivated meat in the US and the beginning of a new way to eat meat in the US – if the companies can win over American consumers.
Both companies will start small by serving only one restaurant each – but their partnerships with Michelin Star-winning chefs suggests the impact they hope to have on the food scene will be anything but small.
UPSIDE’s cultivated chicken will launch at Bar Crenn in San Franscisco, where three-Michelin-star chef Dominque Crenn famously took land-based meat off the menus of her restaurants in 2019 because she wanted to “effect real environmental change,” and cited meat as an “insanely complicated” factor in climate change.
But now, she is ready to bring it back because UPSIDE and others pioneering cell-cultured meat have found a way to offer meat that they says is more environmentally-friendly and “delicious.”
“Dominque Crenn has been a long-standing partner and friend of [UPSIDE] for many years and she is a force of nature,” said Chen. “She came and tried [UPSIDE’s cultivated chicken] and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is amazing. It’s delicious … and I’m going to put this back on my menu.”
Chen added: “For Dominque, a chef who has committed her career and her platform to sustainable food” to bring UPSIDE cell-cultured chicken to one of her signature restaurants “will be a historic moment not only for UPSIDE but in the cultivated meat industry.”
GOOD Meat also is partnering with a celebrity chef to bring its cell-cultured chicken to Americans. Restauranteur and humanitarian Chef Jose Andres has committed to serving GOOD Meat at a yet-to-be-disclosed restaurant in Washington, DC.
While this is the first time that GOOD Meat will be on a menu in the US, it has offered its cultivated mean in Singapore since 2020, when it became the first company to sell cell cultured meat anywhere.
A date has not been set for either products’ debut, but Chen said UPSIDE expects to ship its product “in the next couple of weeks to two months.”
She explained even though UPSIDE has cleared all regulatory hurdles, a USDA inspector must be on site when it “harvests” its chicken and the schedule has not yet been set.
“We haven’t defined the harvest schedule, yet, but we can run continuously or we can have batches that are running, and we are working that out now. But to start, we will launch at a small scale … and we will use that as an opportunity to learn and get feedback and to continue to iterate – and then we will scale,” Chen said.
She explained that UPSIDE’s product is 99% chicken cells, and unlike many other cultivated meat products still moving through the regulatory review process, UPSIDE’s product does not have plant-based materials in it. Others are combining cultivated cells and plant-based ingredients to help lower costs and increase scale capacity more quickly.
Winning over mainstream consumers
Even though both products will launch at high-end restaurants that may be out of reach for many Americans, UPSIDE is offering consumers a chance to be among the first in the US to eat its cultivated chicken through a social media contest that asks people to comment on a company post and explain why they are hungry for a better future to enter.
But winning over American consumers – many of whom have never heard of cell-cultured meat – will take more than celebrity endorsements and social media buzz, Chen acknowledged.
“One of the things we are thinking about when we launch is putting consumers at the forefront because ultimately, as a company, we will do absolutely everything we can to make safe, delicious products, but the magic and the impact in the world only happens when consumers actually buy the products, and when they love them and when they integrate them into their habits and their lives,” Chen said.
With this in mind, she said, UPSIDE and other players in the cultivated meat space are working to establish a welcoming and approachable nomenclature to describe their products. As such they are pushing back hard against references to their products as “lab made,” and advocating for the use of “cell-cultured” or “cell-cultivated.”
UPSIDE also invites consumers to tour its facility in a neighborhood in San Francisco surrounded by restaurants and apartment buildings.
“We love this narrative that the future of meat processing can be in your neighborhood and its not what you thin. And so, we’ve had folks who have come in and been skeptical and say, ‘I am not really sure what this is,’ and ‘I don’t know, it sounds kind of scary,’ or ‘it doesn’t sound natural,’ and they walk in and they say, ‘Oh! This looks like a beer brewing facility.’ Or, ‘This looks like a yogurt factory,’” she said.