Innovation in the cell-cultured meat sector28 Oct 2022
As the number of animal-free meat consumers continues to grow, manufacturers are on the lookout for new, innovative, and sustainable ways to produce tasty alternatives to traditional meat. Eat Just and SuperMeat are just two companies disrupting the alternative industry with their cell-cultured meat products.
With almost half (47%) of global consumers currently following a diet based around the avoidance or moderation of animal produce, flexitarianism, or so-called ‘casual vegetarianism’, is quickly gaining ground as the modern diet of choice.
This, along with a host of factors including shortages resulting from supply chain challenges and the rising cost of animal-based diets, is driving a global plant-based market boom. In Europe alone, the plant-based meat sector was valued at €1.4 billion in 2020. And in the years since, it has only continued to balloon with sales values rising at a rate of 68%.
Over recent years, an influx of innovative plant-based ingredients, processing techniques, and products have entered and revolutionised the plant-based space. A recent report from flavour giant, Givaudan, exploring the most promising processing techniques on offer shows that while innovation is well underway, there remains a relatively untapped market for plant-based manufacturers to discover.
A sustainable alternative to traditional meat
One promising processing technology that is increasingly being used by forward-thinking food manufacturers is cell-cultured, or cultivated, meat. This method produces meat alternatives by cultivating real animal cells in bioreactors in labs and arranging them in identical or similar structures as animal tissue, rather than formulating alternatives with plant-based ingredients. Since the creation of the first cultivated meat burger in 2013, the sector has gained investment of over $450 million across more than 60 companies globally.
Replicating the nutritional and sensory profiles of traditional meat, cultivated meat eliminates the need for animal agriculture, a top contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, and allows consumers to enjoy the same taste and texture as the meat they’re used to eating. Given that cells from one animal could cultivate the same amount of product as countless animals, cell-cultured meat offers a sustainable alternative to the carnivorous diet. One estimate suggests that cell cultured meat could reduce land use by up to 95% and require 77% less water than its traditional counterparts. While consulting firm Kearney suggest that by 2040, 35% of all meat will be lab-grown.
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Creating chicken nuggets via cultivation
Nevertheless, due to the specialist equipment required to carry out the process, capital and operating costs are high, and more innovation is needed to scale the technology and decrease the cost of end products. Question marks around whether cultivated meat alternatives classify as vegan or vegetarian, are also an obstacle to widescale consumer adoption.
In 2020, California-based startup Eat Just launched their cultivated meat chicken nuggets in Singapore, a world first on the back of a landmark approval of the meat alternative product for human consumption. The chicken nuggets were created when cells extracted from a chicken feather were added to 1,200-liter bioreactors. After around two weeks in the climate and pressure-controlled bioreactor, the cells multiplied and became edible animal tissue in the form of raw minced meat which were then moulded into the classic chicken nugget form. Eat Just’s chicken bites sold for $17 per portion at 1880 restaurant in Singapore.
Since then, the cultivated meat sector has seen further innovation including 100% cultured chicken products without the use of plant-based carrier or scaffolding, developed by SuperMeat in 2022, and Mosa Meat’s non-GMO and full tissue burgers which produced 80,000 patties from a sesame-seed size sample of cells in 2022, the report highlights.
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