As the Jan. 2021 issue of Progressive Grocer was going to press, the world’s first cultivated meat product was approved for sale, in Singapore. San Francisco-based Eat Just conducted the first commercial sale of cultivated chicken bites to 1880, its restaurant partner in Singapore. While such an introduction could still be years away in the U.S. market, this launch is historic for the global food industry.
Cultured meat, also sometimes referred to as clean meat or lab-grown meat, is meat produced directly from cells outside of an animal instead of from slaughtered animals.
“We are hoping and expecting that the U.S., China and the EU will pick up the gauntlet that Singapore just threw down,” says Bruce Friedrich, executive director at The Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.
According to GFI, there are more than 60 startups, numerous international food and life sciences companies, and a host of academic researchers conducting research and development and commercialization efforts in cultivated meat.
While it isn’t exactly clear when these products will arrive Stateside, Emma Ignaszewski, corporate engagement strategist at GFI, says: “Accounting for technical challenges, infrastructure construction needs and regulatory uncertainties, our best guess is that cultivated meat will be more broadly available at upscale restaurants by the late 2020s and potentially available in mass-market restaurants and possibly grocery stores by the 2030s. Hybrid plant-based and cultivated products, which contain only a small constituent amount of cultivated meat, may be available in mass-market restaurants by the late 2020s.”
Dasha Shor, global food analyst and registered dietitian at Chicago-based market research firm Mintel, predicts that blended products that combine cell-based meat with plant-based protein will be the ideal avenue for cultured products to enter the market.
Shor also cites research suggesting that three out of 10 consumers say that they’d be interested in trying cell-based meat. “This is a relatively large number, given the products are not on the market yet,” she notes.
Cultured meat meets the consumer need for realistic meat taste, but familiarity, texture and price will be key challenges in the early days of commercialization, she predicts. “Blends that combine cultured and plant-based proteins in familiar formats like sausages and hamburgers are a win-win: Plant-based ingredients will help to bring down the cost when blended with more expensive cell-based meat, and cultivated meat will deliver the taste consumers crave without using meat from animals,” observes Shor.
She also notes: “It will take some time to normalize cellular agriculture in our society and get over the ‘eek’ factor of producing food in laboratories. There will also be concerns around the level of processing: The final product prepared using the cells requires additives to resemble the color, texture and taste of meat from animals. Any potential legislation that would prevent the use of ‘meat’ terminology on labels for cell-based meat could become a barrier.”