Future Meats drives cost of lab-grown chicken down to $1.70 a breast
There has been a lot of activity in the world of cultured meat since we reported on a US$330,000 lab-grown burger back in 2013, as scientists and startups work to bring the price down to something resembling the real deal. Making inroads in this space is Israeli startup Future Meats, which has just received the largest investment ever in the cultured meat industry and is rapidly reducing the production costs of its lab-grown chicken.
Future Meats is one of a number of cultured meat companies working to reach cost parity with traditional meat products, with Impossible Foods, Eat Just and fellow Israeli outfit Aleph Farms also making significant advances in the last couple of years. Despite it also popping up in big-name chains like KFC and McDonalds, lab-grown meat is yet to hit the supermarket shelves in a broad sense, as the costs of production remain a few steps behind traditional agriculture.
With its own proprietary technology it calls a "media rejuvenation process," Future Meats is looking to make up this ground, fast. Its approach involves taking cells harvested from live animals and using stainless steel fermenters to continually remove waste products, while feeding the cells nutrients so that they proliferate and develop into tissues and, in turn, edible cuts of meat.
The company says this process leads to yields 10 times higher than the industry standard, while generating 80 percent less greenhouse gas emissions, using 99 percent less land and 96 percent less freshwater than traditional meat production. Back in February, Future Meats announced that its technology had advanced to the point where it could produce a cultured chicken breast for US$7.50, and then in June it opened the world's first lab-grown meat factory in the Israeli city of Rehovot, where it was able to produce these breasts for $3.90 a pop.
After using the facility to scale up its media rejuvenation technology, the company says it has reduced this cost to $1.70, while the production cost for each pound (453 g) of cultured chicken is $7.70, down from just under $18 six months ago. Future Meats does appear to be making rapid progress, but as a gauge, the average price for a pound of chicken in a US city is around $3.60 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. So factoring in the other costs associated with getting it onto the shelves, there remains some work to do for Future Meats to make up the difference.
"We have consistently demonstrated that our single-cell technology and serum-free media formulations can reach cost parity faster than the market anticipates," says Professor Yaakov Nahmias, founder and president of Future Meat. "We also demonstrated that our proprietary media rejuvenation technology enables cell densities greater than 100 billion cells per liter, translating to production densities 10-times higher than the industrial standard."
Helping its efforts along will be the $347 million in series B funding it just raised, as it looks to expand with a new plant in the US and accelerate its plans for mass production. It is currently scouting locations for this large-scale production facility, with construction expected to get underway next year.
"We are incredibly excited by the massive support of our global network of strategic and financial investors," says Nahmias. "This financing consolidates Future Meat's position as the leading player in the cultivated meat industry, just three years after our launch. Our singular technology reduced production costs faster than anyone thought possible, paving the way for a massive expansion of operations. Our team will break ground on the first-of-its-kind, large-scale production facility in the United States in 2022."