The San Leandro-based company, which unveiled a meatball in February 2016, has not gone into detail about the nature of the scale up process for producing its wares, but VP business development Steve Myrick told FoodNavigator-USA that production costs are continuing to go down and the company remains confident that it will have products on the market in 2021.
"We've learned a lot and we are continuing to reduce costs on a really rapid trajectory and we've had positive declines faster than we even expected to over the last several months."
While they may initially carry a premium price tag, Memphis Meats is confident that it will over time be able to produce meat at parity or below the price of conventionally-produced meat, in a manner that is greener, cleaner and kinder, said Myrick.
It has also made significant progress in validating an alternative to animal serum for the growth medium, the nutrient bath the cells need in order to survive and grow, he added.
"We've validated a production path that does not require serum, and we are in the process of rolling that out into everything we do."
(Fetal bovine serum - which pioneers in the clean meat space growing beef have typically used - is derived from blood extracted from a fetus after it is removed from a slaughtered dairy cow, which is not consistent with the philosophy underpinning cultured meat, and can also be inconsistent from batch to batch, and is in limited supply.)
A 'significant technological leap for humanity'
While beef has garnered most of the attention to date, chicken is the most popular protein in America, and represents a $90bn market opportunity, while mainlind China consumes more than 6bn pounds of duck a year, said CEO Uma Valeti, M.D.
“Chicken and duck are at the center of the table in so many cultures around the world, but the way conventional poultry is raised creates huge problems for the environment, animal welfare, and human health. It is also inefficient. We aim to produce meat in a better way, so that it is delicious, affordable and sustainable.
“We really believe this is a significant technological leap for humanity, and an incredible business opportunity—to transform a giant global industry while contributing to solving some of the most urgent sustainability issues of our time.”
Cell lines, growth media, scaffolding, bioreactors...
So how does the process work?
The cells Memphis Meats is using come from adult stem cells or 'satellite' cells that are self-renewing, such that they will divide and grow indefinitely, said Myrick, who confirmed that the company is working with cells which can differentiate into all of the cell types necessary to make meat taste, look, cook and behave, like meat (eg. fat, muscle, connective tissue etc).
It's too commercially sensitive, however, to describe the nature of the bioreactors in which the meat is grown, and what ‘scaffolding' the company is using such that the cell lines grow in a way that ensures its ‘meat’ replicates the texture, taste, and appearance of conventionally-produced meat (eg. with the right ratio of fat, muscle and other cell types).
The business model
As for the business model – whether Memphis Meats will license its technology, partner with a big food company or look to become a major CPG company in its own right, for example – the immediate priority is to get products to market, but the company is having conversations with several potential partners, confirmed Myrick.
"We're open to partnerships and licensing agreements as there are a number of large players that are very interested in our technology but right now we're focused on being a products company."
It's too early to say which products will hit the market first, but the company will be targeting foodservice and grocery channels, he said.
"What's exciting is that we are building a multi-animal platform that will allow us with relatively small changes to produce many types of meat. This has validated that our platform can do multiple products."
As for the terminology, ‘clean meat,’ ‘lab-grown meat,’ ‘cultured meat’ or something else, consumers (and regulators) will probably decide, although Memphis Meats likes the 'clean energy' analogy as the meat is more environmentally friendly and will also be ‘cleaner’ in a literal sense in that it will be free of antibiotics, fecal matter, pathogens, and other contaminants found in conventional meat.
On the funding front, Memphis Meats raised about $3m in seed funding in early 2016 in a round that was "heavily oversubscribed," said Myrick, who said that the company would be "likely to talk to existing and new investors about the next round over the next several months.
"We believe that we are the clear leaders in the clean meat space in terms of developing products and reducing costs."
The economics of clean meat production
So will Memphis Meats and others in the embryonic field of clean meat production – a field which has its roots in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering but is attempting to operate on a completely different scale – really be able to meet their goal of getting commercially viable products to market within four years?
Click HERE to get a perspective from Liz Specht, PhD, senior scientist at the Good Food Institute, who says that when you break the process down into four components – cell lines, growth media, scaffolding, and bioreactor scale up - the biggest challenge is probably the bioreactor scale up, although every stage has unique challenges.