Cargill Inc., one of the largest global agricultural companies, has joined Bill Gates and other business giants to invest in a nascent technology to make meat from self-producing animal cells amid rising consumer demand for protein that’s less reliant on feed, land and water.
Memphis Meats, which produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement Tuesday on the San Francisco-based startup’s website. The fundraising round was led by venture-capital firm DFJ, which has previously backed several social-minded retail startups.
They made the first ever chicken and duck meat that were produced without the animals.
“They’re the leader in clean meat. There’s no one else that far along,” says venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, whose firm led Memphis Meats’ recent $17 million Series A. Before he met Valeti in 2016, Jurvetson spent almost five years researching lab-grown meat and meat alternatives, believing the market was set to explode. “They’re the only one that convinced me they can get to a price point and a scale that would make a difference in the industry,” he says.
Livestock account for 14.5 percent of greenhouse gas production–more than all transportation combined.
The FAO expecting meat consumption to nearly double by 2050.
Another Silicon Valley startup, Impossible Foods, has raised almost $300 million for a veggie burger that browns like ground beef and even “bleeds” when served rare, thanks to the presence of heme, a component of the blood molecule hemoglobin, which is also found in plants. The Impossible burger mimics the taste of a haute fast-food patty, though its consistency is not quite there–the outside caramelizes, but the interior is a tad puddingy. (Gates has put money into Impossible, as well as in its competitor, Beyond Meat.)
For Memphis Meats, with its significant head start and singular focus, the path to success is straightforward. It needs to make its meats more appetizing and much cheaper.
This sumemer they invited more than 25 people to sample fried chicken and duck à l’orange. The event was deemed a success. “They really nailed the texture and mouthfeel,” one guest, sustainable food advocate Emily Byrd, said. But it was expensive. Growing that “poultry” cost about $9,000 per pound. At his company meeting, Valeti revealed that the most recent harvest, in May, had been considerably cheaper, with the meat costing $3,800 per pound. “I want it to keep going down by a thousand dollars a month,” said Valeti. “Our goal is to get to cost parity, and then beat commercial meat.”
They want to get to $1 per pound for meat.
Memphis Meats could persuade influential chefs to feature its wares on their menus. Another would be genetically engineering nutritional profiles so the company could tout increased health benefits–adding, say, omega-3 fatty acids to beef to make it as healthy as salmon.