Eat Just Inc. has an answer to an age-old question.
The egg came first, and now comes the chicken. That’s the plant-based egg and the cultured chicken, to be precise.
On Thanksgiving, the company that developed JUST Egg learned it had won regulatory approval to start selling chicken made from cultured cells in Singapore. The intensive process to win approval took two years of officials studying every aspect of the production process, safety protocols and manufacturing facilities, said company founder and CEO Josh Tetrick.
JUST has created a separate brand, GOOD Meat, to market the chicken, to avoid confusing consumers who are used to JUST’s plant-based products. GOOD Meat’s chicken is actual chicken meat made from cell lines cultured in 1,200-liter bioreactors, as opposed to a plant-based meat alternative.
While several companies around the world including Mosa Meats, Memphis Meats and BlueNalu are developing cultured meat and seafood products, and they’ve sparked the interest of investors to keep them funded, this product is the first one to win the governmental approval needed to launch sales.
MORE FOR YOU
In the U.S., regulators took the first steps toward an approval process more than two years ago. In November 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration first unveiled a preliminary agreement for joint oversight of the fledgling cultured meat industry in the U.S. The agreement, finalized in March of 2019, is designed to ensure that cultured meat and poultry products are produced safely and labeled accurately, the agencies said in a joint statement.
It seemed a step forward at the time in a brand-new area of food production that had long been talked about, but more than two years later there are still no cultured meat products available to consumers in the U.S. or any other country.
Singapore will be first
That’s about to change in Singapore, where the GOOD Meat product will launch soon with a single, yet-to-be-named restaurant partner. The first products will be nugget-type chicken bites, and they’ll come with an educational piece and transparency about how the chicken was made and how it differs from conventional meat.
Eat Just learned all about developing and perfecting new products and scaling production to feed demand with the creation of its first plant-based products, including JUST Egg which now has a global following. Along the way, the company found big egg and poultry companies to partner with in Europe and Asia.
The goals for GOOD Meat are the same – get it into tens of millions of global restaurants and retail outlets, and potentially partner with major meat companies to speed growth and launch more cultured products like chicken breasts, beef and other meats, Tetrick said.
While the lessons on growth learned while developing the plant-based products will carry over to the new brand, the actual production process is very different. The company started the research and development on the cultured meat about four years ago, and it has since been working on expanding and speeding production since then, bringing production costs down fortyfold along the way, Tetrick said.
Most of the cultured chicken will be produced in a facility in Singapore, putting it close to the first market where it will launch.
Tetrick expects the launch in Singapore will encourage regulators in other markets, including the U.S. and Europe, to speed development of their own regulatory approval processes.
“I think they will hear what’s happening and it will probably light a fire under them,” he said. “Singapore really decided they wanted to get in on this. They spent two years developing a rigorous regulatory process and they applied it to us. They will apply it to other products, and other companies will want to apply too. Singapore has established itself as a leader.
Cultured meat is a hot topic for The Good Food Institute, which supports companies working to get their own products to market and applauds the Singapore government’s investments of time and money into developing the regulatory approval process.
“Singapore has thrown down the gauntlet and other countries need to pick it up,” GFI Executive Director Bruce Friedrich said in a statement. “Cultivated meat will mark an enormous advance in our efforts to create a food supply that is safe, secure, and sustainable, and Singapore is leading the way on this transition.”
Two challenges met, one to go
Making cultured foods is a time-honored tradition and culturing cells isn’t all that new, but doing it to produce meat in a large-scale way hasn’t been done yet.
“One of the biggest challenges was how to figure out a way to make an enormous amount of this,” Tetrick said.
The next big hurdle was replacing the culturing medium that used a small amount of animal-derived serum with a new medium that’s animal free, which was a key goal.
“The whole point of doing this is to help create a livable planet, so we want the whole thing to be as sustainable as it possibly can be,” he said.
Those hurdles have been cleared and the third lies ahead.
“We can make tens of millions of pounds of the meat – that doesn’t mean consumers are going to buy it. We need to be as compelling as possible.”
That means being upfront and completely transparent about the production process and the reasons behind it, while also finally being able to let consumers experience the products for themselves, he said.
“We will be open with them about how we develop the cell line… we can bring cameras into the process so they can see we’re entirely open about it. They can see you can make meat from a single cell and you don’t need to kill a single animal or deforest a single acre of rainforest land.”
Some people might experience the product and learn about how it’s made and decide it isn’t for them, Tetrick said. But providing transparency into the process is also a way to highlight differences between cultured meat and conventional meat, including the fact that producing meat this way allows the company to keep out salmonella, E.coli and other pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses and make the meat antibiotic-free.
The product will be labeled as “cultured chicken” and restaurant patrons will know what they’re ordering, he said.
“We want to make sure the staff is fully educated, we want everyone to be able to explain exactly what it is.”
Just as the goal in creating JUST Egg was to promote a more humane, more environmentally friendly alternative to chicken eggs, the mission with GOOD Meat is to encourage those qualities in the meat supply.
“I think what’s going to happen is, you’re going to have restaurants and retailers around the world where cultured meat, fish and chicken will be the main source because people will realize its cleaner and tastier and ultimately it will be the lower cost option,” Tetrick said.
There will also be plant-based meats, because some people just don’t want to eat meat from animals even if it’s produced humanely, he said.
And finally, a very small percentage of meat will be pasture raised and produced on small-scale farms, he said.
Tetrick has an 18-month-old niece named June.
“Before she graduates high school, I want the world to be that world,” he said. “A world where producing all the meat doesn’t involve killing a single animal.”