Canada’s Maple Leaf Foods has led an investment round in cell-based protein start-up Evolved Meats.

Publicly-listed Maple Leaf, which manufactures conventional meat and plant-based alternatives, said the CAD2m (US$1.5m) seed funding will enable Evolved Meats to “accelerate its product development” and “support the initial scale-up of its production processes”.

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Previously trading as CaroMeats, the cultured-protein company in Kitchener, Ontario, said its “agnostic platform grows whole cuts of meat that are structurally and biochemically identical to conventional cuts of meat” across all the animal proteins.

Maple Leaf said its “vision is to be the most sustainable protein company on earth”. In 2017, the company acquired local-meat free businesses Field Roast Grain Meat Co. and Lightlife Foods. However, in recent months, it has lowered growth expectations for that side of the business and decided to adjust its investment plans as a result.

Mississauga-based Maple Leaf has not responded to Just Food’s request to confirm if Evolved Meats is its first investment in cell-cultivated meat and what expertise the company can bring to the table.

Michael McCain, who recently announced his intention to step down as CEO next spring to become chair of the board, added: “We are committed to supporting promising new technologies with the potential to nourish people and protect the planet. We are excited to invest in Evolved as they pursue their vision to produce cultivated-meat production using their unique technology.”

Joining the seed round was Big Idea Ventures, an alternative-protein venture fund and accelerator that has invested in plant-based and cell-cultured protein start-ups, such as Singapore’s Shiok Meats.

Garage Capital, a VC fund in Ontario, also took part, along with Hong-Kong headquartered peer Saltagen Ventures, which is focused on North America and Asia. The University of Waterloo’s Velocity Fund also contributed, as well as “strategic angels”, Maple Leaf said.

Evolved Meats CEO Alireza Shahin alluded to the price-parity challenge cell-cultured meat firms are facing with conventional animal proteins, although many companies operating in the sector have yet to commercialise products.

“Our ambition is to recreate meat in a way that is identical to nature by bio-fabricating functional muscle tissues and capturing the entire muscle-to-meat transition,” he said. “However, recreating whole cuts of meat is only part of the challenge. Our unique ability to create functional tissues will help us scale out our production, while driving towards price parity with conventional meat.”

Andrew Ive, the founder and managing partner at Big Idea Ventures, which has been backed by France’s Bel Group and US meat giant Tyson Foods, said Evolved Meats is “working to solve important scale-up challenges to cell-based meats”.

Ive added, noting he will sit on the company’s board: “By removing the need for scaffolding, Evolved Meats technology breaks down not one, but several barriers in the cultivated-meat production process, and makes non-processed meat cuts possible.”

Just Food’s rolling guide: Eyeing alternatives – meat companies with stakes in meat-free and cell-based meat

Another Just Food guide: Leading the charge – the companies at the cutting edge of cell-based protein product development

Just Food analysis, March 2021: Can cell-based meat not cost the earth?