The positive impact that alternative meat products – like plant-based meat or cultured meat – can have on the environment is striking. Under optimistic scenarios where we shift from meat-rich diets to plant-based diets over the next 15 years, between 61-68% of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture can be avoided.
Except for the fact that Alternative Meat has a big scaling problem.
The Good Food Institute (GFI) estimates that alternative meat producers will need to create 800 production facilities and spend around $27 billion over the decade to meet global demand.
To do this, cultured and plant-based meat companies must solve scientific problems ranging from the size and efficiency of bioreactors to the high costs of growth factors used in cell-cultured meat. Some startups see these scaling issues as a foothold in the alternative meat space. Rather than launching brands, they are B2B alternative protein companies developing scalable industrial production platforms. Two companies in this year’s Y Combinator cohort are adopting this model.
Mooji meats: fast 3D printing of whole cuts
Mooji Meats was incorporated just 6 months ago and is in the process of raising its first seed round of $2.5 million. The company has developed a 3D printer capable of producing whole cuts of meat from plant proteins or cultured meat cells. They are developing a 3D-printed cut of Wagyu beef and expect a prototype to be viable for taste testing within 6 months, co-founder Insa Mohr told TechCrunch.
“There’s always this trade-off between scale and texture,” Mohr told TechCrunch. “3D printing still creates great textures without being scalable. Then there are other technologies that are scalable but don’t create good textures. Especially not for steaks. And we overcome that trade-off.
Mohr claims that Mooji can print these cuts of meat by layering fat, connective tissue, and muscle cells in a marbled pattern, but she didn’t provide many details on how that happens. Mooji’s main advantage, she says, is speed. Mohr said a printhead is “250 times faster” than existing 3D printers.
At this early stage, it’s not a crime to be secretive. But the proof of this improved operating speed should be visible soon. Mohr says the $2.5 million Mooji is currently raising should be enough to get the company to its first client and hopefully a real-world proof of concept.
Micro Meat: scaffolding for cultured meat companies
If you think plant-based meats will have problems keeping up with demand, that’s nothing compared to the cost challenges that cultured meats face.
Some companies claim to at least break this cost barrier. In December 2021, Future Meat, an Israeli cultured meat company, recently raised a $347 million Series B funding round led by ADM Ventures (an astronomical jump from its $14 million Series A) , and claimed to be able to produce a pound of chicken for $7.70, less than half the $18 it cost 6 months prior. But that’s still higher than the cost of about $3 per pound of regular chicken.
Anne-Sophie Mertgen, founder of startup Micro Meat, told TechCrunch that most new cultured meat companies still struggle to make their businesses work at scale.
“No other industry exists where the big players are completely vertical,” she told TechCrunch. So we really believe that to build this industry on a large scale, it’s necessary to feed the world. we need more b2b players.
Micro Meat was founded in 2021, while Mertgen’s postdoctoral work at Tec de Monterrey in Mexico was halted due to the pandemic. Micro Meat focuses on creating cellular tissue scaffolds. Scaffolds are structures that facilitate the flow of nutrients and give cells the signals they need to form mature muscle tissue. Unstructured ground products do not need extremely complex scaffolds, but cuts like steaks do.
“We can grow them [tissue scaffolds] using processes similar to those used by the cultured meat industry, like biopharmaceutical reactors, for example,” she said. “We can scale this indefinitely, like right now we can produce, easily, with our first prototype, 100 grams in one minute.”
The technology is currently in a prototype phase, but Micro Meat has successfully created a cultured pork product, she said. The company has raised $375,000 to date in pre-seed funding and is in the process of raising a $2 million seed round.
This cycle should provide up to two years of lead needed to establish an R&D line, perfect more devices and consumables, and secure co-development deals, Mertgen said.
More B2B holes to fill
Micro Meat and Mooji Meats share a larger thesis: there is an untapped opportunity for B2B players in the alternative meat space.
“The first B2B players entered the market in 2017, while the first cultured meat companies were established in 2013-14,” Mertgen said. So it’s generally a very young industry, but I think it’s really going to be needed. »
Mohr says she sees some of these companies emerging: “‘There are more and more platform solutions evolving, which basically shows us that the industry as a whole is evolving,'” she said. declared.
But there are still more holes in the alternative industry that need to be filled, industry analysts noted. Two that currently stand out are: more diverse protein sourcing options for plant-based meat and cheaper sources of growth factors for cultured meat products.
The good news is that there is money for companies looking to solve these problems. The amount of private funding in the alternative protein space has warmed since 2020. That year, $3.1 billion flowed into alternative protein, a 3x increase in funding over the previous year. ‘last year. And in 2022, we continued to see big funding rounds come to an end.
It’s a nice setup for an industrial alternative meat platform company with the ability to scale this fledgling science. Every problem in the supply chain is a scientific challenge big enough to make or break a business, or even a career.