Cellular agriculture can create products from cell cultures rather than whole plants or animals. The technology has generated “a tremendous amount of investment and interest over the past few years,” according to Karen Stanton, director of global marketing for IFF Taste.
Presenting a panel on the burgeoning space, Stanton pointed out that cellular agriculture has attracted more than $ 700 million in investment, of which $ 400 million was injected into the sector in 2019 alone.
Much of the enthusiasm for cellular agriculture stems from the benefits and disruptive potential it offers.
Innovators in the field believe that, compared to conventional animal agriculture, the production of animal tissues in bioreactors will prove to be a safe and more sustainable source of protein. It is hoped that cellular agriculture will provide a way to meet the growing appetite of the growing world population, which is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, without depleting limited natural resources and increasing emission levels of carbon.
Isha Datar, president and CEO of donor-funded research institute New Harvest, noted that cellular agriculture has “really grown over the past five years.” “We are in a place technically capable of producing food from cells and we are also in a place in the world where we are trying to approach sustainability and food security with technology. Cellular farming is a great way for us to avoid many of the challenges associated with animal farming to create a better food system ”,she suggested.
The market route: “It’s much bigger than a hamburger”
While rapid scientific advancements and technological developments make today an exciting time for cellular agriculture, there are major challenges to overcome before a product reaches the mass market.
“The biggest barrier to entry for the estate right now is that it is not yet fully fledged. We have businesses that are well supported, but we don’t have a very solid academic environment in which talent would come to populate those businesses… It’s much bigger than a hamburger. It’s a whole new area of research, a whole new industry, a whole new way of producing food. We need to fill a lot of gaps to get there.
One of these deviations is the cost – and in particular the cost of growth media and the difficulty of producing on a large scale – which increases the cost of cellular meat production.
Ahmed Khan, founder of CellAgri, noted that some of the cultured meat companies have said they plan to bring products to market within a few years. However, he stressed, it will be crucial that these products are of high quality and safe.
“For some food companies, there are still hurdles that they must first overcome in order to move from the laboratory scale to the commercial scale before bringing a product to market. Several meat companies have shared product production schedules over the next few years, some as early as 2021. But, across the industry, it is more important that the first products that hit the market come out correctly rather than faster. in terms of safety and public perception ”,he observed.
Datar – who co-founded the cultured dairy company Perfect Day and cultured egg producer Clara Foods – believes these products are much closer to scale. She sees significant benefits in leveraging cellular technologies to produce protein products such as eggs and dairy – and believes these developments will have a greater impact in the short term.
Held on June 17, the event was organized to support the IFF’s Re-Imagine Protein innovation program. The IFF aimed to differentiate the unique Plantful Virtual Festival by offering “ideas and inspiration” about plant-based food and drink products on two virtual stages. The company has worked cooperatively with external experts and knowledge partners around the world to develop content.
Describing the approach taken by IFF, Mahbir Thukral, Innovation Marketing Director, told FoodNavigator: “Like many, in these times of disruption, we have been overwhelmed by the large number of invitations to digital conferences, seminars and webinars. With our concept of a virtual festival, we wanted to upset the very notion of a digital event. We had strived to capture the essence of an immersive, multisensory festival rather than your traditional dress-and-tie conference.
“The future of these products is much earlier than that of meat from cell cultures. And this is because we have already been producing various foods from cell cultures for a long time. Lots of vitamins, lots of food additives are already produced from cell cultures.
“What’s new with Clara Foods and Perfect Day Foods is that they make commodities. The volumes we are talking about are much higher. In some ways, the regulatory system is more established for this type of protein product. “
Looking at the development of the cellular agriculture market, Datar suggested that Perfect Day ice cream would be available “this year for sure”.
She thinks the shift to cell production should be seen as a journey. “I think we need to temper our expectations of what a cell culture food is. It is actually a wide range of things. It won’t be the fully textured 3D steak we see on the market first. It will be something akin to a herbal product with either cells involved or cell culture elements involved. There are many gradations between a plant product and a cellular product. We should expect this type of product before we start to see the things that come to mind first.
Nonetheless, she added: “Meat is a bit more of a transformational change in our food system than these protein products. “
Consumer acceptance, marketing and collaboration
If capacity development is a barrier to scaling up cell culture production, consumer acceptance could be a future stumbling block for commercialization.
According to a survey of more than 3,100 IFF event attendees, only 24% of respondents said they would be happy to try cell-based agricultural products. Forty-seven percent said they “could” but would “need more conviction, while 29% insisted there was” no way “to convince them to. try cellular products.
Khan argued that communicating around the benefits of cell farming will be the key to gaining trust.
“Context is everything and this is especially true with future food technology… In all new technologies, communication will be important. Communicating the benefits of this cellular farming technology will be critical for consumers to understand and accept. Beyond telling consumers how these products are made, it’s important to explain why scientists and companies around the world are exploring this technology, from environmental benefits to public health benefits.
Regarding the future development of cellular agriculture, Khan and Datar expect an increasing level of collaboration between innovators in the field and established players in animal protein and allied industries.
“There will be many more partnerships with players in conventional food production, from traditional agriculture and meat to the pharmaceutical industry, looking to see how they can apply their technology and expertise in this area. cellular agriculture and, in general, in future food supply chains. Whether it is helping to overcome technical scientific hurdles or even helping to distribute or use cell-based products and ingredients, there are many opportunities for traditional food players to collaborate. with cellular agricultural enterprises ”,Khan predicted.
Datar said that manufacturers of conventional foods “absolutely” should view developments in the space as an opportunity that she suggested could be exploited through investments in the field.
“If COVID has taught us anything this year, it’s that the current supply chain is already under threat. The best way to deal with your threatened business is to diversify, explore new spaces and new ways to keep doing your job.