A food tech unicorn CEO bets big on China’s appetite for lab-grown meat

Meat is unquestionably a staple of many people’s diets. Globally, we consume around 350 million tons per year. It’s delicious, but it’s also unsustainable. Global food systems are responsible for around 34% of all emissions. Entrepreneur Josh Tetrick is trying to help solve the problem.

Tetrick is the co-founder and CEO of food tech company Eat Just, which is famed for launching a plant-based egg. The company has attracted celebrity chef José Andrés to its board, and since its founding as Hampton Creek in 2011 has raised $650 million (the company changed its name in 2018). It became a unicorn with a $1 billion valuation in 2016.

The Silicon Valley CEO told us he’s in this business because the traditional food system is broken.

“It’s built on many tens of billions of animals that require over a third of our planet to have sewing corn for them to consume,” said Tetrick. “It also results in the number one cause of zoonotic disease – there is a lot wrong with it.”

His company also broke new ground with its GOOD Meat division by becoming the first company in the world to sell cultivated meat to the public. Tetrick’s team can take a cell from a feather of a chicken, place it in a bioreactor (like a microbrewery) and grow a piece of meat. Meat that he started serving to diners in Singapore in December 2020.

Now the company is about to expand its reach to Southeast Asia and China after breaking ground in March on a new $120 million manufacturing facility in Singapore.

The market for lab-grown meat

While other cultured meat companies such as California’s Upside Foods and Israel’s Aleph Foods are gearing up for global distribution, Tetrick’s company is still the only one in the world allowed to sell cultivated meat to the public.

But there will likely be room for everyone, as the United Nations’ Mitigation of Climate Change reportpublished in April, listed cellular agriculture as a transformative mitigation, noting that lab created protein will not only reduce environmental risks but will also help save money.

Consultants at McKinsey & Company estimate that cultivated meat has the potential to become a $25 billion market by 2030 and produce 1.5 million tons of cultivated meat annually. But they noted that tens of billions of dollars need to be spent to scale it to even 1% of the global protein market.

Tetrick said he is in it for the long game.

“This is a multi-decade project.” he said. “If our definition of success was to sell tens of millions of dollars for products and then sell it to a big food company, we could have accomplished that last year.”

“This is a multi-decade project. If our definition of success was to sell tens of millions of dollars for products and then sell it to a big food company, we could have accomplished that last year.”

“But that’s not our definition of what getting it done is,” he said. “Getting it done means the most ubiquitous egg in the world doesn’t require an animal, and the most consumed meat in the world doesn’t require the slaughter of an animal.”

Tetrick’s ultimate goal is to make cultivated meat mass market.

“We want it to be so ubiquitous that people don’t talk about it or want to write articles about it, because it is the new every day, boring meat,” said Tetrick.

The market has already come a long way since Tetrick and his co-founder Josh Balk started the company to tackle food sustainability head on.

“When we started about 10 years ago the alternative protein landscape looked quite different,” said Tetrick. “There was a lot of tofu, lot of tempeh, a handful of bean-based veggie burgers and soy milk. There has been a real sea change.”

With the popularity of Eat Just’s mung bean-based eggs, Tetrick was already a pioneer of the plant-based alternative protein market, but he believes that he needed another option for steadfast carnivores, which is why he launched GOOD Meat.

“If people just ate beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, I wouldn’t have to raise all of this money and have all these scientists working across 14 different disciplines making these kinds of products,” said Tetrick. “But humans are human – we’re imperfect.”

While some question how environmentally friendly cultivated meat will be when it ramps up production, others have blanched at the thought of it being conceived of in a lab.

“If being made in a giant stainless vessel weirds you out a little bit,” Tetrick said. “I would just encourage them to Google, ‘how are chickens slaughtered?’ Then compare the ick feeling and choose the one that feels the least icky.”

What’s next for GOOD Meat?

GOOD Meat is now about to launch shredded chicken at restaurants and street food stalls in Singapore, as well as beef, pork and then seafood.

Tetrick said he saw the future with his own eyes in Singapore, when the first people to dine on GOOD Meat’s cultivated chicken were a table of children aged between 12 and 18.

“It’s one of my top three days in my life,” said the entrepreneur. “It was the first time the meat was sold to any human being in the history of the food system. They were kids who were motivated to do something meaningful.”

Tetrick is currently serving dishes such as Singapore’s famed chicken rice and baos from SGD4 ($2.90) to SGD23 ($16.84) to diners in Singapore, but his goal is much larger.

Now that China has included cultivated meat in its five-year agricultural plan, Tetrick has China on his radar.

China is the largest consumer of eggs and meat in the world, and the entrepreneur believes that China’s adoption of cultivated meat could drive investment and research. “It’s a big policy move for them to do,” said Tetrick.

“If being made in a giant stainless vessel weirds you out a little bit. I would just encourage them to Google, ‘how are chickens slaughtered?’ Then compare the ick feeling and choose the one that feels the least icky.”

And he’s not the only one with his eyes on the region. Mirte Gosker, acting managing director of the Good Food Institute APAC, said that there needs to be a change as global meat production doubled between 1989 to 2019, partly due to emerging economies in Asia.

Asia’s appetite for conventional meat and seafood has been projected to increase by another 70 per cent by 2050, contributing to historic levels of deforestation, water depletion and greenhouse gas emissions,” Gosker said. “A change of trajectory is urgently needed and alternative proteins like cultivated meat are an essential part of that shift.”

Beyond Asia, is also ready to launch in the United States and Middle East – just as soon as Te permit him too.

“We are ready to sell within weeks of receiving regulatory approval,” said Tetrick. “When we will receive regulatory approval is a better question. Regulators don’t provide a timeline for us.”

Still, as far as Tetrick is concerned, regulations aren’t the issue, it’s technology that is slowing the food tech guru down.

“Regulations are going to be solved, whether it’s this year or next,” he said.

The holdup to going global comes down to a combination of technology and infrastructure, said Tetrick. In order to take things to the next level, he needs to dramatically increase the size of his 12,000 liter bioreactors.

“In order to make this happen, we need to make meat in 100,000 liter vessels. No company makes them,” he said. “The ability to have those is the single biggest limiting factor.”

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