Investors are pushing alternative meat market  

Sustainability Dialogue: Food, Feed & Nutrition

Manufacturers are keen to get involved in the alternative meat market. Investors and incubators are pushing forward start-ups. 

After all, there is also growing interest among companies with production expertise to get involved in the cultured meat market. Over the past months, Merck, Novozymes, DSM and others are expressing a lot of interest. At past events such as EFIB 2019, it was clear that a lot of stakeholders want to secure a piece of the pie in the attractive market. Food experts from the Startlife Incubator at the University of Wageningen and the Berlin-based food organisation ProVeg International recommend cooperating strategically with manufacturers. “It will be possible to reduce the consumption of animal meat by 50% by 2040 through attractive biotechnical innovations, but then scaling up production is crucial,” ProVeg Incubator head Al­brecht Wolfmeyer said during EFIB 2019 in Brussels. However, as Cornelia Habacher from Rebel Meat GmbH stated at the event, companies will have to find their own individual strategies. The Austrian start-up is betting on hybrid technology and the right mix of meat and plant products. It already supplies a dozen restaurants in Vienna. “We only want to work with natural ingredients, not use any additives, and establish ourselves in the market as quickly as possible,” Habacher says. “The right mix is ​​our secret.” The Rebel Meat patty is still made from 50% organic beef sourced in Austria. But the company is planning to replace that with cultured meat as soon as larger-scale cell culture technologies are in place. “We wanted to get established in the market, and not have to wait so long for all the scaling problems to be solved by cultured meat.”

Chinese investors actively investing in the space

Many experts who presented at the EFIB 2019 were convinced that biotechnology would be part of the solution. “Without upstream innovations, we cannot expect products at the end of the value chain. Biotechnology is an essential driver in which we want to invest,” said EFIB panelist Joseph Zhou from Chinese food tech investor Bits x Bites (see his interview here). In Brussels, he provided his insights on what’s happening in Asia: “China is facing a major upheaval in the food sector, and we will actively invest in technologies that we consider promising for the Chinese market.” For Zhou, the EFIB was a good scouting platform for new technologies. Chinese investors have already sunk funding into some companies – among them British genome editing specialist Tropic Biosciences Ltd. and Israel’s cell-based meat company Future Meat Technologies. 

ProVeg starts to invest in companies

Incubators like that organised by ProVeg International are also now moving beyond just advising companies and into investing in them and holding their own conferences on the topic. “New technologies can go a long way towards addressing the urgent challenges of the global food system in terms of climate change, environmental destruction, antibiotic resistance and public health. The future of protein is plant-based and – in the longer run – cultivated,” comments Wolfmeyer. Since the launch of the Proveg Incubator in 2018, it has supported more than 30 start-ups from over 15 countries. In April, the fourth cohort of start-ups has started. “Due to the corona crisis, we will offer a full-fledged remote programme, with modules like fundraising, branding and product development,” says Wolfmeyer. For the first time, all accepted start-ups will receive a €20,000 grant to boost their business, with the potential for a further €30,000–€180,000 in investment after completing the programme. With the outlook of large financing rounds like those seen with Memphis Meat in the US, along with growing investment commitments from accelerators all over the globe, are also making cultured meat producers confident that the capital needed to finance costly large-scale production facilities will be available in the coming years.