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When might we see cultured meat in stores?

30 July 2020

A recent IDTechEx report explores the technologies and market factors involved in the rapidly emerging industries for meat alternatives. 

Cultured meat – meat products artificially grown in a lab without requiring the slaughter of animals – has been attracting headlines. By growing muscle, fat, and connective tissue cells outside the animal, it is possible to produce meat-like products without the environmental and ethical issues associated with conventional meat production. 
 
A 2019 AT Kearney report predicted that most of the meat people eat will not come from animals by 2040, with 35% of global meat intake coming from cultured meat. Investors around the world are reflecting this optimism – in the last five years the field has raised over $300 million in funding, with California start-up Memphis Meats raising $161 million earlier this year.
 
However, no cultured meat company has yet released a product, and nobody is sure when the first products will come out. 

Although technology has advanced and funding has become more available, there are three big hurdles to cross before cultured meat can see its commercial release – price, scale, and regulation.
 
When Dr Mark Post, current CEO of Mosa Meat, unveiled the first cultured burger in 2013, it cost over $250,000 to produce. Things have come a long way since then, with JUST recently saying it could produce a cultured chicken nugget for about $50. However, price remains an issue. The dominant cost component for producing cultured meat is that of growth medium, the nutrient-rich serum that is fed to cells. Growth medium can cost almost $400 per litre  and conventional bioreactors need hundreds of litres to produce a single kg of cultured cells. 
 
However, according to cost calculations in the IDTechEx report, there is no fundamental reason why growth medium could not becheaper, it is just a matter of engineering and scale. The technology exists to produce cultured meat cheaply, it just has not been produced at a commercial scale before. Because this a completely new industry, there is not yet an ecosystem around cultured meat production, meaning many companies are having to do much of the development in-house, rather than being able to rely on partners for bioreactor development, growth medium production, etc. This means that getting everything ready for cultured meat up to a commercial scale takes a lot of time and money.
 
This leads to the next problem – regulatory approval. Before it can be sold commercially, cultured meat must secure regulatory approval, a process that takes around two years in the EU and is likely to take around 18 months in the US, once the process is finalized. No cultured meat company has yet submitted a bid for regulatory approval, however. This is mostly because no company has yet finalized its commercial-scale process, and so cannot say for sure what it will look like, preventing approval on aspects such as safety procedures.
 
Although this may all sound pessimistic, it is important to keep a sense of perspective. Cultured meat is an entirely new industry and it is natural that there will be challenges. Cultured meat has enormous potential to impact global food production, but the industry and its supporters will need to manage expectations in its formative years. 
 
So, when will cultured meat arrive in stores? If everything goes right, it could see a commercial release in some form by around 2023, although it will still be several years before it is widespread across the world’s supermarkets.
 
For more information on this report, please visit www.IDTechEx.com/AltMeat


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