A decade since Dutch start-up Mosa Meat unveiled the world’s first cultivated hamburger, a plethora have businesses have been created, winning some serious money from investors attracted to the prospect of a new food type upending the way we eat (so proponents say).
However, the mood music around cultivated meat is not as positive as it was just a few years ago, with questions around the technology’s scalability and even in some cases its sustainability credentials.
And it appears that the progress the nascent cultivated-meat industry has made so far is likely to slow in the next few years as waning investor appetite and geopolitical instability hamper efforts to commercialise the products on a wider scale.
The deal activity in cultivated meat had been gathering some momentum in 2022 but has fallen back in 2023 so far. Cultivated meat’s development is reliant on investment from external sources as the still-fledgling businesses try to make improvements in product development and in tackling costs.
There has been progress on cost from the $330,000 price tag of the Mosa Meat burger of 2013. By 2019, Mark Post, one of the team behind that patty, said the cost had fallen to €9. Of course, that still exceeds the cost of an equivalent conventional burger but the prospect of volatile climactic conditions could put upward pressure on livestock prices as the cost of cultivated meat comes down.
However, it’s clear there remains some scepticism about the prospects for cultivated meat, not least because still only two countries – the Singapore and the US – have given the green light to the selling of the products commercially. Moreover, even in those markets, the products offered by Good Meat and Upside Foods are only on sale in a handful of restaurants.
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Last month, UK corporate advisory firm Oghma Partners forecast the cultivated meat market is likely to see the same consolidation process playing out in the plant-based protein sector as the funding market tightens.
“A key driver of the rationale behind cell-based protein production is to generate cheap, low-carbon protein without the need for antibiotics and in a safe and controlled environment,” Mark Lynch, a partner at Oghma Partners, wrote.
“Cell-based agriculture has therefore substantial potential as an alternative to traditional agriculture. We believe that this potential has driven interest and speculative investment into the industry.”
Lynch, however, added: “Money for new investment is now harder to come by, as the slowdown in funding so far in 2023 demonstrates. The industry will be challenged to deliver sales to consumers and to stretch funding runways to the point of delivering profitability. We see a shake-out similar to that we are seeing in the plant-based meat sector, with consolidation amongst the players most likely.”
There is no doubt cultivated-meat businesses will be watching the situation in the plant-based meat market carefully.
Lynch describes the industry as still in its “infancy”, with the supply chain for mass production “yet to be established”.
However, he sees the potential. “There is a growing global consensus on the requirement for countries and organisations to become more environmentally friendly and reduce CO2 emissions. This demand could act as a key driver in the development of the cell-based meat industry,” he said.
“Current agricultural practices have negative environmental impacts and release harmful GHG emissions into the atmosphere. Cell-based meats have the potential to significantly reduce the environmental impact of meat production, whilst meeting the ever-growing demand for meat.”
Indeed, if marketed effectively, cultivated meat could win over consumers with a high meat intake, as well as those limiting their consumption (and perhaps eating no meat at all, although the jury is out here).
A GlobalData consumer survey conducted in the first quarter of 2023 revealed that “I don’t think I will like the taste/flavour” was the most common response among high meat eaters (39%) compared to flexitarian/low meat/pescetarian/vegetarian/vegan diets (33%) and those with no dietary requirements (36%) as a reason to be put off trying alternatives in meat products.
Knowing that cultivated meat at this point can even fool food critics into thinking they’re eating real meat, as Israel’s SuperMeat has demonstrated, the product has the potential to win over staunch meat eaters where plant-based products failed.
Nevertheless, in the near term, regional inhibitors are starting to slow this journey. Israel has been a hub for innovation, home to businesses such as SuperMeat, Believer Meat and Aleph Farms. However, the recent geopolitical conflict in the region could affect investor sentiment.
And, all the while, there is the threat of national governments actively looking to pull up their drawbridges on the technology. Last month, Italy announced it had banned the production, sale and import of cultivated meat under a bill first proposed in March.
Approved by Italy’s Chamber of Deputies, or the lower house of parliament, the bill now needs to go before the European Union for final sign-off.
And France appears set to consider a similar piece of legislation.