Not just meat, but clean, sustainable meat: SuperMeat is the Israeli startup based in the country’s innovation hub of Tel Aviv, which is developing a technology to supply the world with high-quality, clean chicken meat grown directly from chicken cells, produced in a sustainable and animal-friendly way. Their ethical lab-grown meat is crafted in safe and controlled environments external to the animal´s body that mimic natural conditions and avoids the use of antibiotics, completely avoiding the environmental damage of their animal-based counterparts.
With the startup soon set to disrupt the meat industry, we had the pleasure of speaking to Ido Savir in the new year, co-founder and CEO of the startup about the rise of the widespread acceptance of cultured meat and the advantages it offers to our overall society, health and planet. This is what he had to say..
What was the inspiration behind SuperMeat?
The inspiration behind the launch of SuperMeat was the realization that the meat and food industry will need additional tools to what is currently available in order to meet the world’s growing demand for meat. We’re great believers in the ability of technology to create a rapid and global impact and were inspired by the ocean of possibilities that could come from leveraging the incredible resources and technologies that were developed for the fermentation and pharma industries into creating a more sustainable food system.
You recently opened the world’s first ever cultured chicken restaurant in Israel. Do you plan on expanding this to other countries or continents? And what has been the overall reaction you have received?
The Chicken provides for the first time a real glimpse into the full story of cultured meat production from chicken cell to chicken burger.
We believe in providing the consumer access, visibility and traceability of the produce that is delivered to their table. The Chicken, utilizing SuperMeat’s technology, implements these principals, showcasing true local meat production, providing diners transparency as well as freshly sourced produce, from production to fork, all under the same roof. Our vision is to have such settings available around the world, allowing local communities and farmers to grow their own meat and provide it in a sustainable, fresh, and cost-efficient way. We’re currently exploring with several regions implementing this model in other areas which would serve as a focal point for laying the foundations for an industry of meat production based on cellular agriculture.
Consumers are excited about this new way of producing meat and its potential benefits, and are curious about the taste, texture and aroma of the product. SuperMeat conducted multiple tastings with different types of participants, from chefs and food engineers to everyday meat lovers, concluding that the cultured chicken was indistinguishable from traditionally manufactured chicken. Recently, The Guardian reported that “Similar to many chicken burgers, it breaks and flakes when pulled apart and is extremely tender. It tastes, at least to this reporter, like a chicken burger.”
There are a number of different clean meat startups entering the food space, is there much competition or do you all work together? What makes SuperMeat unique?
The field has been accelerating rapidly in the past few years, starting with three companies at the end of 2015, (SuperMeat being one), and rising up to over 70 companies and projects around the world. While there are discussions and collaborations regarding cross industry areas such as regulation, most companies are at a sensitive state of their development, which makes it still challenging for deeper level collaborations that would come as the industry matures further. .
SuperMeat’s unique technological platform enables the growth and maturation of cells into meat tissues in full suspension, without the usage of scaffolds or carriers, facilitating the production of meat using existing manufacturing processes from food and pharma industries. This allows us to avoid the need to develop new infrastructures and machinery, providing an industrially scalable and clear path to market.
What are the biggest obstacles cultured meat startups like yours face? And how have/will you overcome them?
The two main challenges in cultured meat commercialization are the scale and cost. This translates to the efficiency and complexity of the production process and to the cost of the feed provided to the animal cells and matured meat tissues. The Chicken symbolises SuperMeat’s milestone of a scalable manufacturing process which has a clear path to commercial viability. In our current focus towards commercialization we put a lot of emphasis on optimizing the process to achieve greater yields, translating to higher conversion from feed to meat, similar to the conventional meat industry’s ongoing efforts to improve its FCR (Feed Conversion Ratio).
The second area which will play an important role in cost reduction is the feed cost, as it amounts to 60-80% of the end cost of the product, similar to the relative cost effect of the feed in traditional meat manufacturing processes. The first step to reduce the cost of the feed is to remove all animal derived ingredients which are expensive, not scalable, as well as problematic to the end product on many levels. SuperMeat achieved this in early 2020, developing a feed which is 100% free of animal derived ingredients.
The next steps for cost reduction of the feed would be optimizing the components of the feed by removing unneeded ingredients and transitioning to food grade and clean label components sourced efficiently.
Lastly, economy of scale plays a major role in the final costs of the product and so as we scale up the volume of our manufacturing will allow us to drastically reduce the costs.
Consumers are increasingly looking for more sustainable food brands, not only for the good of their health but also the planet. Is sustainability an important part of your development journey?
Feeding the world’s growing population sustainably was one of the main motivations for SuperMeat’s foundation. Cellular agriculture, which SuperMeat’s manufacturing process utilizes, offers multiple tools for the meat and food industries that allow to drastically reduce the required resources as well as the unwanted byproducts. More so, introducing technology as a core part of the manufacturing system allows for ongoing optimization of different aspects of the process, continuously improving it by leveraging the rapid technological progress from adjacent fields such as wind/solar energy sources and more. There’s an ocean of possibilities that opened up once the manufacturing system became a closed system which is location and climate independent and does not require animals as part of the manufacturing line.
These benefits to the manufacturing process not only make it more sustainable to produce animal protein, but also amount to an overall higher product quality which will benefit the consumer nutritionally and sensorially.
How does clean meat fit into the current, traditional meat market?
Cellular agriculture offers the meat industry, for the first time in history, new and advanced manufacturing possibilities with multiple inherent traits and advantages. These advantages provide meat producers uniquely efficient tools for adapting to the changing market demands as well as potential environmental risk factors.
High Yield Manufacturing System – Cultured meat production process is exponential in nature, which means that the meat produced doubles every couple of hours.
Once the desired animal mass is achieved, it allows harvesting approximately half the meat every day. It is metaphorically the equivalent of having a farm of 1,000 mature chickens, and harvesting 500 mature chickens out of that farm every day endlessly.
Short Food Production Chain from Farm Plant to Fork – The steps and time required for the processing of the end material are shorter. No need to defeather, disassemble, debone and clean the chicken, reducing expensive labor and risk of zoonotic disease. The target tissues are grown and harvested directly, and the end result is 100% edible chicken meat without any processing procedures.
Product Quality – The manufacturers will have high control of the end product quality in terms of taste, nutritional value and functional behavior allowing for customization according to the target application. The quality of the chicken meat is consistent as the manufacturing is performed in a closed and controlled system and is independent of external forces like weather or ground type, no matter where it is produced in the world.
Long Shelf Life – Since there is no point of contamination present in the manufacturing process, the chicken will have longer shelf life as well and will not contain any antibiotics.
Adaptation to Market Demand & Potential – Our evolving globalized world requires producers to be able to quickly adapt to market demand and conditions. Cultured meat manufacturing plants will provide the ability to implement Instant changes in supply and demand in hours rather than weeks or months, unexpected decreases in demand will result in less waste and economic loss, and sudden demand increases will not have to be foreseen months ahead.
Lower production costs – At scale, the process will be more cost effective than growing a whole animal for meat. Growing the target tissues directly, without going through the digestive system of an animal, increases the feed conversion ratio dramatically. This results in less resources expenditure, less waste, and an overall smaller ecological footprint that will also translate to reduction in cost.
Where would you like to see SuperMeat in the next few years?
SuperMeat’s current focus is cost reduction and scaling in parallel to expanding its meat platform to support a wide range of high quality meat products.
In the next two years we intend to roll out our first products to food service at strategic locations in parallel to continuing our scaling up and optimization work toward large scale commercialization aiming to release products to retail in the next 5 to 7 years.
SuperMeat is one of many disruptive startups that will be present at Future Foodtech which returns this March 11-12, where they will be joined by other international, cutting-edge companies, business leaders and speakers and industry pioneers to delve into the transformation and innovation of the future food system.We are proud to be partners with this distinguished event, join us and SuperMeat there and sign up now!