University of California at Berkeley creates Alternative Meats Lab

23 Aug 2017

The University of California, Berkeley is creating a new Alternative Meats Lab (alt.meat lab) to give students a leg up on a trillion-dollar market opportunity: transforming the meat industry.

University of California at Berkeley creates Alternative Meats Lab

The University of California, Berkeley is creating a new Alternative Meats Lab (alt.meat lab) to give students a leg up on a trillion-dollar market opportunity: transforming the meat industry.

The lab at Berkeley will use the latest technology tools and techniques to engineer plant-based meat alternatives – with animal meat-eaters as the target market.

“There is evidence that meat-lovers would buy plant-based meat alternatives if the taste is right,” said visiting professor Ricardo San Martin, co-chair for the new lab, “One of our goals for the lab will be to develop delicious food that is similar to meat from a nutritional and functional perspective, but may not necessarily mimic meat exactly.”

According to the North American Meat Institute, the U.S. meat market topped $1 trillion in 2016, amounting to nearly six percent of overall U.S. GDP.

There are many venture-capital backed startups developing plant-based products aiming to compete with traditional meat, the university notes, but typically their approaches and techniques have been industry secrets. One of the goals of the alt.meat lab will be to develop research to open up the industry by freely distributing findings in order to enable more entrepreneurs to be successful around the world in the meat alternatives space.

“Through our network of alumni, investors, and founders, we determined that meat alternatives represent one of the biggest opportunities for creating a startup right now,” said Ikhlaq Sidhu, faculty director and founder of the Sutardja Center for Entrepreneurship & Technology (SCET) at UC Berkeley and professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering & Operations Research, “The market is huge, and we believe the technology is ready for entrepreneurs to compete with traditional meat in the near future.”

The plant-based meat initiative was born last semester when UC Berkeley offered what it claims is the world’s first course solely focused on developing plant-meat products. In addition to the new lab, the course is being brought back this fall by popular demand, and with a fresh roster of guest lecturers and industry experts.

To help with the all-important elements of getting taste, texture, and smell right, the SCET will be partnering with Givaudan, who will lend their expertise to help students create the flavors and smells necessary to create enticing meat alternatives in the upcoming course.

“We are excited to work with some of the brightest young minds in the world to help find solutions that address the taste and texture challenges of non-animal proteins. The societal and environmental implications are enormous, and no one can solve this individually. We must collaborate to truly move forward, and we feel that the multi-disciplinary approach being utilized at Berkeley will yield optimal results,” said Flavio Garofalo, Givaudan’s Global Business Development Manager, Protein.

Givaudan has also put forth a technical challenge to the class to create a plant-based product that includes intracellular fat and water. Currently, many meat alternative products are dry and lack the umami taste, but when formulators add oil and moisture to make up for this, it creates new challenges within the production process that Givaudan hopes Berkeley students can help solve.

SCET is also partnering with the Good Food Institute (GFI), a non-profit devoted to supporting the success of the meat alternatives industry, to address the myriad problems associated with modern meat production. Animal meat is one of the largest contributors to global warming, is associated with poor health outcomes, and raises ethical concerns around the treatment of animals. SCET partnered with GFI in the first course where they provided valuable domain expertise and connections.

“This course is a unique opportunity for students to work collaboratively with experts in the food industry to tackle the complex technical challenges of designing and producing high quality meat replacements that meet the needs of consumers,” said GFI Senior Scientist, Christie Lagally.