How SuperMeat is helping cultivated meat take off

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Ido Savir knows that he’s starting with the hard stuff.

And yes, the SuperMeat CEO is aware that everything his cultivated meat company has been doing since its founding in 2015 is really difficult. It’s not like there’s anything easy about creating meat for food by growing cells in bioreactors, but using stem cells as a starting point is its own gigantic challenge.

“You can ask anyone who is in biotech or anything related to cells, the cells that we’re using … are very early embryonic stem cells. These are the hardest to grow and the hardest to maintain and use in terms of production.”

But it was more than “inherent craziness” that set Savir on this path. He was hoping to find a way to actually recreate meat the way it comes from animals — with muscle, connective tissues and fat all together at once — without having to work with several different types of cells. And he wanted to be able to use more standard fermentation equipment, not requiring extraordinarily specialized bioreactors for a faster scale-up and lower start-up costs.

Savir said that so far, doing it the hard way has paid off. SuperMeat, located in Israel, has been one of the most active manufacturers in the cultivated meat space. Since last year, the company has hosted tasting events at The Chicken, its tasting room and restaurant that is attached to its pilot plant. Hundreds of people — ranging from funders to food critics to chefs to curious consumers — have tried SuperMeat’s chicken there. Among those was professional taster and Master Chef judge Michal Ansky, who could not tell the difference between cultivated and animal-derived chicken, and actually preferred the taste of SuperMeat’s poultry.  

SuperMeat’s chicken in a salad.

Courtesy of SuperMeat

 

SuperMeat also wants to help other cultivated meat companies get a lot of the hard stuff out of the way. The company has two major partnerships in place to do open source research — information that will be freely available to anyone in the space. In March, SuperMeat announced it was working with global ingredients giant Ajinomoto to create and refine cell growth media — something that Savir said might be sold to cultivated meat companies in the future, much like animal nutrition suppliers today sell feed to farmers.

Last week, SuperMeat announced a second partnership with Thermo Fisher Scientific. The global life sciences company will work with SuperMeat to develop a system that can screen hundreds of thousands of potential inputs for growth media, cell supplements and scaffolds. The end goal is identifying what works best and costs the least. The partnership and system are made possible through a grant from the Israeli Innovation Authority.

While there are still challenges ahead, Savir said that SuperMeat and other companies in the space have all broken through some of the initial difficulties, which puts the entire cultivated meat industry at an exciting place. Eat Just’s Good Meat cell-based chicken was approved in Singapore in November 2020, which was the first big landmark point, but there’s more just around the corner for cultivated meat, he said.

“The next point, I believe, would be the tipping point,” Savir said. “When we actually hit the market — and the expected timeline is the next year or two years, that’s when the frontline players are going to roll out the first products to the market and have the first consumer engagement with commercial products. …What we’re all [waiting for,] and I think that’s what the world is waiting for, is the last barrier, which is commercial viability. And that’s what we’re working on.”

Working toward meat

If SuperMeat keeps going in its current direction, it isn’t going to be a brand consumers recognize at the grocery store. Savir said he intends for the company to stay in the business-to-business and supply-chain realm. SuperMeat would be able to cultivate the meat, while manufacturers or wholesalers would take it to market.

But, he said, SuperMeat also wants to be a player that truly knows the cultivated meat space and can help newcomers get past some of the common challenges that early players have faced.



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