- Tasty alternatives to meat aren’t enough for these startups, which are working on burgers, fried chicken, and sushi that verges on the real thing – all without the usual environmental waste or ethical concerns.
- While some companies pursue creative plant-based recipes for burgers that “bleed,” others are coaxing animal cells into real flesh.
- These startups are on the front lines of the future of meat, and some are already changing what we eat.
Remember when ordering a veggie burger meant dooming yourself to a meal of tasteless bean paste?
Yeah, neither do these startups.
But tasty meat alternatives aren’t enough to meaningfully reduce the waste and environmental damage associated with traditional farming. So roughly a dozen companies – all of which have emerged within the last decade – are working on different options. They’re taking one of two approaches to meat-less meat: either carefully selecting the right mix of vegetarian ingredients to make burgers that “bleed,” or coaxing the cells of cows, chickens, and fish into real flesh – minus the killing.
California-based Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, and Terramino Foods are all making “plant-based” burgers, or foods that taste like meat using vegetarian ingredients from crops like wheat and peas. While burgers from Beyond and Impossible are available in stores or restaurants now, Terramino hasn’t yet turned its “salmon” burger prototypes into a consumer product.
Nearly a dozen other startups are going the cell-to-flesh route with clandestine operations in laboratories around the world. Netherlands-based Mosa Meat, the startup to make the first burger from cells, recently raised nearly $9 million to scale-up its operations and hone its recipe; a Silicon Valley-based company called Just (formerly Hampton Creek) is working on an unspecified product from an unspecified avian cell source; and several companies aim to turn fish cells into products like spicy tuna rolls.
Here’s a look at how far along each company is when it comes to making real food.
Bill Gates-backed Impossible Foods makes the plant-based “bleeding” Impossible Burger, available in restaurants now. It’s made with wheat protein and heme, an ingredient that activists and the FDA say needs more study.
- Impossible Foods
“Meaty” wasn’t a word you’d use to describe a veggie burger until several Silicon Valley startups like Impossible Foods came onto the scene. Thanks to wheat protein and an ingredient called heme, the meat-free Impossible Burger tastes disturbingly close to the real thing. It even “bleeds” like real ground beef. Other people seem to agree: the startup has raised nearly $388 million since being founded in 2011.
But heme is under fire from activists who claim it hasn’t been studied enough to be safe and the Food and Drug Administration, which Impossible Foods called upon voluntarily to review its product. The FDA’s final comments are expected sometime this month.
You can buy the other veggie burger that “bleeds” in grocery stores. Made by Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat, the burgers are made from pea protein and coconut oil.
- Facebook/Beyond Meat
Beyond Meat, another Bill Gates-backed meatless burger startup that launched in 2009, also made a “bleeding” veggie burger using pea protein and coconut oil. The patties are available in 5,000 grocery stores (where they retail at $5.99 for two) and at a selection of restaurants, including TGI Fridays. Leonardo DiCaprio is another recent investor in the Los Angeles-based company, bringing the company’s total funding to roughly $72 million.
A startup called Terramino Foods is working on “salmon” burgers made with koji, a fungus used in sake and miso soup. Its co-founder is a Peter Thiel Fellow.
- Kimberlie Le
23-year-old Kimberlie Le dropped out of UC Berkeley to get serious about her startup, a new company called Terramino Foods. Using $100,000 from Peter Thiel (Le was recently named a Thiel Fellow) and $250,000 from leading Silicon Valley-based biotech hub IndieBio, Le aims to make products that taste like seafood using a fungus found in miso soup and sake.
Although her products won’t be made with fish, Le said they taste eerily similar to seafood.
“The advantage is we have a naturally occurring texture which is very similar to meat,” Le recently told Business Insider.
Dutch startup Mosa Meat made the first real meat burger from animal cells. This month the company raised $8.8 million from drug maker Merck and meat processor Bell Foods.
- REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Back in 2013, Dutch scientist Mark Post became the first person in the world to make a beef burger from cow cells. His company, Mosa Meats, recently raised $8.8 million from German pharmaceutical giant Merck and European meat processing company Bell Foods. Other notable investors include Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
Like the other startups in the cultured meat (also called “clean” or “craft” meat) space, Mosa Meat’s biggest challenges are scaling up production and lowering costs. At the time that he produced it, Post’s burger cost a whopping $330,000. But the scientist and startup CEO now says he hopes to bring costs down to about $10 per burger.
An additional hurdle for cultured meat is the reliance on something called fetal bovine serum, or blood taken from the fetuses of cows that are pregnant at slaughter. That rich liquid is currently the easiest way to feed the animal cells used to make cultured meat, but if “clean” burgers ever go mainstream, they’ll have to get past it.
On its website, Mosa Meats says it has managed to find an alternative food source “that works, but we still need to optimize it.”
You can buy plant-based mayo and scrambled “eggs” made by Silicon Valley startup Just (formerly Hampton Creek) in stores and restaurants. The company also aims to turn turkey or chicken cells into sausage or burgers by the end of this year.
- Hampton Creek
It took San Francisco-based startup Just (formerly called Hampton Creek) five years to crack the recipe on its eggless eggs, which are made from mung beans and sold in a variety of restaurants, including popular chain Veggie Grill.
Known for its egg-free Just Mayo, the company first announced plans to tackle cultured meat roughly a year ago. At that time, CEO Josh Tetrick said the first Just craft meat products would be in supermarkets by 2018. Now, the company – which has since raised a total of $220 million – says its first cultured meat product (likely chicken sausage or burgers) will be sold in a restaurant by the end of this year. Just claims its cultured meat is currently made without bovine fetal serum but has yet to offer any public tastings or images of that product.
Silicon Valley-based Memphis Meats has let people taste its fried chicken, meatballs, and duck, all of which are made from animal cells, but hasn’t yet unveiled a product that’s restaurant-ready.
- Memphis Meats/Facebok
In 2017, IndieBio-funded Silicon Valley startup called Memphis Meats claimed it made the first cultured chicken and duck products, which included a delicious-looking fried chicken strip served at a tasting with Chef Derek Sarno. A year earlier, the company said it had produced cultured beef meatballs.
Having raised $20.1 million from investors including traditional food giant Tyson Foods and Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, the company says it aims to have its first products in restaurants by the end of 2018.
Israeli startup Aleph Farms is partnering with a regenerative medicine specialist to eventually make steak — a holy grail for the cultured meat industry because of its complexity — from cow cells.
If there were a holy grail in the world of cultured meat, it would be steak.
While some startups have managed to coax cells into a paste-like medium that can be shaped into sausages, strips, or burgers, none has yet attempted to mimic the complex structure and texture of a hunk of meat.
Aleph Farms wants to be the first. An under-the-radar Israeli startup created with an undisclosed amount of funding from the food giant that owns America’s most popular hummus brand, the company is applying the tools of regenerative medicine to cultured meat.
“We’re the only company that has the capacity to make fully-textured meat that includes muscle fibers and blood vessels – all the components that provide the necessary structure and connections for the tissue,” Didier Toubia, Aleph Farms’ co-founder and CEO, told Business Insider in May.
Finless Foods wants to transform blue fin tuna cells into spicy tuna rolls. The Bay Area startup recently got $3.5 million from the VC who wants to split California into 3 states.
Finless Foods made history last year when it did a public tasting of the first fish cakes made from cultured or cell-based seafood.
The Bay Area-based startup recently got a fresh injection of cash from Draper Associates, Tim Draper’s Silicon Valley VC firm. Draper made headlines earlier this year when he announced support for a controversial plan to split California into three states.
Originally headquartered in Brooklyn, Finless relocated to the Bay Area after spending four months as part of biotech startup hub IndieBio’s accelerator program in San Francisco.
Finless Foods is the only startup making significant progress on bringing cultured blue fin tuna – and seafood of any kind – from lab bench to plate.
“You essentially need to do the science from the ground up,” Selden told Business Insider. “We’ve had to invent a lot of the protocols.”
Finless is still working with bovine fetal serum, though it aims to move away from it eventually.
Startup Integriculture recently nabbed $2.7 million from the Japanese government to create the first foie gras from chicken liver cells, expected sometime in 2021.
- Flickr / sophie
In Tokyo, a startup called Integriculture is pursuing foie gras made from chicken liver cells. The company got $2.7 million from the Japanese government, and plans to use the cash to build a pilot plant as well as the first commercial cultured meat plant. The company claims to be using a form of inexpensive cell culture media and has said it aims to have the commercial plant up and running by 2020.
Berkeley-based pet food company Wild Earth is using the fungus found in miso soup and cultured meat from mice to make a splash in the $30 billion pet food market, much of which is dominated by traditional meat.
The co-founder of biotech hub IndieBio, Ryan Bethencourt started pet food company Wild Earth in 2017.
The startup has raised a total of $4 million and aims to be the first to turn cultured cells from mice into pet food. So far, the company has trialed products made with the same fungus that Terramino Foods is using in its “salmon” burgers, but the goal is to combine that recipe with cultured meat made from mice cells.
“Wild Earth will be the first to bring cultured protein and cultured meat products for dogs and cats to market that are nutritious, humane, and without the devastating ecological impact of factory farming,” Bethencourt told Pet Age in March.