“Vegetables are interesting but lack a sense of purpose when unaccompanied by a good cut of meat.”
–Fran Lebowitz (‘Metropolitan Life’)
People love meat. It’s a staple at family gatherings, religious celebrations, sporting events. It’s used to bring other foods to the next level (bacon brownies, anyone?). Meat is the definition of perfection — there really isn’t anything we can do to make it better.
Or is there?
Meat has one of, if not the greatest, success stories of any commercialized product. Global consumption has been rising steadily since the 1960s. Over 324 million metric tons of meat were produced in 2020. And meat doesn’t really need a marketing strategy — it pretty much markets itself.
Yet despite humankind’s love affair with meat, we can’t ignore the harm that meat production does to our planet and to us. Not only does agriculture (this includes raising animals for food) make up nearly 10% of greenhouse gas emissions, but pandemics caused by viruses of animal origin, such as SARS-CoV-2, and illnesses that wipe out billions of animals intended for consumption have dealt critical blows to the meat industry.
Taking a stand against the shortfalls of the animal agriculture industry, an increasing number of people are choosing to eliminate meat from their diets. Vegetarianism has risen exponentially, especially in Europe and North America. And more recently, plant-based meat alternatives designed to replicate the look and texture of meat have made a significant impact in the market. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat products are widely available at several mainstream grocery store and fast food chains, including Walmart, Burger King, and KFC. These products saw a 454% increase in sales in U.S. grocery stores in March 2020 compared to the previous year.
But despite all this, meat consumption still continues to rise, especially in developing countries. In a world of over 7 billion people, only 8% are vegetarian. The market is speaking loud and clear — for the vast majority of humans on earth, meat is still the preferred food choice. So, how do we build on the momentum of meat alternatives when the numbers suggest we need to convince over 80% of the world’s population that choosing something else really is better?
We do it not by taking meat away from people. We do it by finding a more efficient production method for it. People can have their cake (meat) and eat it too. Don’t believe me? Look at Tesla.
Elon Musk’s approach was revolutionary in its simplicity. He didn’t create a new invention, he just improved upon an existing one. With Tesla, Musk has successfully made the car friendlier to the environment. And he’s done it in a way that continues to delight people who like cars. They look nice. They’re fast and fun to drive. They give you a free pass to the HOV lane. And people feel good about buying them.
When you think about it this way, the electric car is a no-brainer. Making meat — real meat — better is a no-brainer, too. The market is already there. All we have to do is find a more efficient production method. And that’s precisely what my company, Meatable, is doing.
Meat, to put it simply, is nothing more than protein and fat cells. Biology has been making protein and fat cells since the beginning of time. But with modern technology and a deeper understanding of biology, we not only know how protein and fat cells grow inside an animal, we can replicate that process in the laboratory without the animal.
But it has been difficult to scale this process. The first lab-grown burger, revealed to the world in 2013, carried a hefty price tag of $280,000 (to be clear, this was the cost of producing the burger. It was never offered for sale to consumers). It took another 8 years to bring the first affordable option – lab-grown chicken nuggets – to consumers. But more complex products, such as whole cuts of pork or beef, haven’t yet made their maiden appearance.
Meatable has taken a series of steps that have brought the company to the verge of changing the narrative. We have the technology to rapidly scale protein and fat cell production. We’ve produced the proof of concept. If we continue down this path, we will soon bring to consumers cuts of real meat, produced with less water, land, and greenhouse gas emissions, without killing an animal, and without using antibiotics and pesticides. And we will do it at affordable prices.
This will make a huge impact on the market. People all over the world have forgotten the “weird” factor of cultivated meat because they realize that this is the way to eat the meat they love and do good for the planet. Regulators recognize the demand and are responding — Singapore recently became the first country in the world to approve cultivated meat.
Investors, too, see the momentum building. Meatable just announced a $47 million Series A funding round to advance small-scale production of our prototype product and diversify our portfolio. With funding rounds like this, we, as well as other companies in the space, will be able to recruit the best talent to bring cultivated meat to the market even faster.
And once people get their hands on it, the demand will grow even more. Much like Tesla drivers realized they could make better choices without sacrificing the things that make driving fun, meat eaters will realize they can make better choices without giving up meat at all.
We will never stop eating meat. But we will start eating better meat.
Welcome to the next chapter of meat’s great success story.