Can you answer your shoppers' questions about cellular agriculture?

Can you answer your shoppers' questions about cellular agriculture?

April 5, 2017
Phil Lempert

By Phil Lempert, RDBA CEO

Consumers are about to hear a lot more about cellular agriculture and your buyers are being bombarded by these Silicon Valley start-ups who want to get their products on your shelves.

These start-ups have a different set of rules than the typical CPG company. They are focused on life-hacking and want to use their foods to simplify consumers lives, add nutritional benefits, protect the environment and go mainstream - and quickly.

There are many challenges of agriculture and the stress of the world’s growing population, so it’s no surprise to find a growing number of alternative products made of animal-free protein in supermarkets, but cellular agriculture is taking a different approach to the same issue.

Instead of mimicking the taste and texture of meat and dairy with a plant-based alternative (Beyond Meat’s burgers or nut-based milks), cellular agriculture uses the methods of tissue-engineering to produce molecularly identical products. Cellular agriculture is basically laboratory “farming” of agricultural products from cell cultures and it is a scientific breakthrough in biotechnology. By using renewable energy sources, it also makes it possible to produce a cleaner, cheaper and more flexible food product that creates less waste while supporting animal health.

It ultimately produces two types of agricultural products: acellular products and cellular products: 

  • Acellular products are made of organic molecules (proteins and fats) and contain no living material.  Examples include gelatin, casein, omega-3 fatty acids, oval albumin, and vanillin.
  • Cellular products are made of living or once-living cells. Examples include meat, eggs, dairy products, leather, fur, offal, and wood.

The first cultured beef hamburger was made by Dr. Mark Post in 2013 and worked as a proof that the concept works, but the process cost $330k and was extremely time-consuming. In 2015, a small number of entrepreneurs launched start-ups that embraced the science further, and they quickly attracted over $20 million of investment funding. Some of the brands currently exploring the market are Memphis Meats that makes a meatless chicken, Muufri who produces animal-milk free milk, Clara Foods who creates an animal-free egg white and Geltor who makes real gelatin, but without the animal.

While still being in the early stages of research and development a “post-animal bioeconomy” is still far in the future but with enough research, this could be a possible reality. Today Beyond Meat is selling their animal-free ground beef substitute in dozens of Whole Foods stores while Impossible Foods is courting 5 star chefs to add its similar product to their menus.

According to New Harvest, the final products harvested are exactly the same as those harvested from an animal or plant, the only difference is how they were made. Meat from lab-derived cell cultures can therefore work as an alternative to raising and slaughtering livestock and create “animal-free” meat. With these advances in biotechnology, cellular-agriculture offers an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional food production, and could therefore be the answer to the huge global demand for animal-based foods and offer shoppers a more nutritious alternative.