I recently returned from a mind-blowing two days at the New Harvest Cellular Agriculture conference in New York City, where I delivered a presentation on Getting Cellular Agriculture into the Real World. A highly engaged, global group of scientists, academicians, entrepreneurs, investors and students united around the mission to launch cellular agriculture products into the marketplace. For two full days, an impressive list of speakers and exhibitors examined cellular agriculture from every angle – how it is made, the state of the science, the impact on the environment, implications for traditional farming, how it will be regulated, and, in my little corner, how ‘cell ag’ products might be brought to market. Meat, poultry, dairy, eggs and fish grown from stem cells in a laboratory environment have a long way to go before they are understood – let alone accepted — by the mainstream. Actual edible cell ag products are still in their infancy and the cost to create them is ridiculously high. Yet, the head of steam behind cellular products might just push them out more quickly than you think.
For the most part, Hyde Park Group works with Big Food – bringing outside inspiration into concept development, rapid proto-cepting and commercialization of new products. While Big Food’s stage-gate approach may seem light years away from a venture capital mindset, many start-ups at the conference expressed interest in working with these large companies. My bet is that we’ll see a cell ag meat or poultry product enter the market first. Professor Mark Post from The Netherlands, largely credited with developing and sampling the first cellular agriculture burger in 2013, spoke about the first prototypes. Apparently the preliminary burger tasted kind of dry… the next generation will have fat in addition to muscle tissue. One company to watch is Memphis Meats, who recently received funding from Cargill. In August Memphis Meats debuted actual cellular agriculture chicken and meatballs on a press tour (not commercialized yet, but promising). Another company, Hampton Creek, best know for pea protein- based “Just Mayo”, is purportedly introducing a “clean” poultry (aka cultured meat) product next year and an ex-Dupont executive has joined their newly formed board. Key insight: the smart companies know that capital-intensive cellular agriculture will happen much faster, and on a larger scale, with Big Food partnerships.
Companies developing cellular agriculture meats and poultry seem to be the most aggressive in this space. I wouldn’t be surprised if some have already applied, or on the cusp of applying, for GRAS (FDA Generally Recognized As Safe) approval. GRAS is at least a two-year process, so these products may not see the grocery shelf until 2019 at the earliest. Some of the first products will likely be unstructured meat (i.e., a chicken nugget or meatball) or fish-based since seafood is not regulated by the USDA and easier/faster to get through GRAS. Once an approval precedent is set, however, other products will follow quickly.
Net, don’t underestimate the speed with which these products will come to market. There are some seriously big players interested in lowering costs and scaling production, and an energized community driving cellular agriculture forward.