This week we're talking about new technologies; about a new way of producing food. In fact we are talking about a new way of producing meat without farming and without slaughtering livestock.
That steak that many of us love to eat not only has a massive carbon footprint, it also uses very significant quantities of water and the nutritional value of a steak is far less than the nutritional value of the feed consumed by the cattle. Is there another way?
Recently I spoke to Daan Luining, co-founder and Chief Technical Officer of Meatable.
Anthony: So people have been eating meat for millennia. And it's healthy, and it's pretty nutritious. There are people who are against it. And obviously, they don't like the idea of slaughtering animals. But if we do it in a controlled way, what do you see as the problem with meat?
Daan: There isn't? Well, well, the problem with meat is that people eat too much. Even our product where there's no slaughter, do you reduce the resource costs of this product immensely?
Anthony: Right now? So this is a substitute for meat?
Daan: No, it is meat. Yeah, it's actually made from the same stuff. It's actually made from an animal, it is animal protein.
Anthony: Without killing the animal?
Daan: Yeah. If you'd ask me if this was vegan, I would say no, it's not. It's actual animal protein, actual muscle and fat from an animal.
Anthony: All right, so but you don't kill the animal. So how do you start, I mean, you take part of the animal or?
Daan: Part of cells, and we use these special cells with a fancy word they call pluripotent cells. And what this means is they have a lot of potential to become basically every cell type in a cow, they can become liver cells, brain cells, heart cells. But of course, we are most interested in muscle and fat. So these cells have immense growth potential. This is really what it means to be a pluripotent. So what we do is that we feed the cells, all the nutrients and provide us with the environment for them to thrive in. So this means 38 degrees celsius, this means a certain oxygen percentage, it means a certain amino acid and sugar and salt concentration around the cells so they can absorb all the nutrients, multiply, and then after we have grown enough of the cells, then we turn them into muscle and fat tissue, and then we can make food from that.
Anthony: Right? Okay. When you want to start the next batch do you have to go and get more material from an animal?
Daan: In our case, we don't. Since we use these pluripotent cells, we only have to get the cells from animals once and they have the potential to self replicate indefinitely to certain heights of course, nothing is forever, but these cells have an immense growth potential. There are other cell types that the field has been using, which are more constrained to their age. So these are called primary cells. And primary cells means that they originate from the tissue type that we collect them from. So you have muscle stem cells, fat stem cells, and maybe liver stem cells. And they age like we do, the cells also age and therefore you need to go back to the animal to re-harvest. But I thought that there wasn't a great model for large scale production, because I want to make sure that this product will at least have the potential to end up in everybody's diet, because only then you can actually make the impact that I'm looking for. Since only 4 to 5% of the people in Western societies are vegetarian or vegan, which is, it's not a lot. It's not a lot. But this is my target audience right like the other 96%. So to make sure that they have the availability of this product, you need to make sure that you think on a very, very large scale. In the Netherlands alone, people eat two and a half million kilogrammes of meat every day, is every day two and a half million kilogrammes. If you're not making these types of amounts, then you're not making the impact I'm looking for then yours will be a niche product by themselves. So therefore going with this cell type the pluripotent cells have the best option to grow into a mass production in the mass market.
Anthony: Right. Okay. Okay. And when you developed your cells and you create the meat, I mean, what are we going to expect to find though: steaks, mince, or burgers, or what?
Daan: So in the beginning it will be mince products, like hotdogs, nuggets, hamburgers, other types of sausages, because creating large pieces is pretty challenging. So processed products are a bit more forgiving when it comes to texture. The rest is all the same. There's the same proteins, there's the same fats in it. But you know, if you mess something up, then you basically reform the texture in a different shape. If you want to make steaks and we are working on that, but it's in the pipeline, it will be like the next product launches first it will be sausages. We aim for that about 2025 for our first product launch, but then afterwards, we're also developing steak-like products. And there's where we do the more complex form of getting really big muscle fibres and having them in performing like a steak.
Anthony: Okay 2025. Now, if you come to market if you actually displace the existing model of livestock farming and meat production, you are up against some immense players, global corporations. And if you are able to actually replace a significant proportion of the meat market with your special products, then that's going to have a knock on effect to the whole of agriculture, the whole of the agricultural industry in the supply chain as well. So are you confident that you're going to be able to stand up to the people who are going to have an interest in your not succeeding?
Daan: So I don't think that will be the case. I think what we see already in this space at Tyson, Cargill, BSW group, they already are investing in these types of technologies. There are investors already, since they also understand that the way that we're producing meat right now, it's not going to be sustainable for the future. In the Netherlands, there are huge protests, with farmers, because they are being disowned of their lands and being reduced or their livestock is being reduced. Because there's so much nitrogen and so much methane and so much manure being produced that we're drowning in it. And this market is still growing 3.6% CAGR every year, it's a $1.5 trillion market. So I'm thinking that we are coming in like some cowboys, taking double digit percentage of a market that is so enormous is delusional. This will take time. And this is a transformation that will happen with farmers and not against them.
Anthony: Okay, okay. Now, GM foods have had a really bad press. There's an awful lot of prejudice. And you could argue that it's uninformed prejudice, but nonetheless, the consumer and to a large extent, the government's are against GM foods now, are you going to see the same sort of prejudice against your products?
Daan: I don't think so. But what I've seen happening from the moment I started in this space, to what it is today, is that something happened between 2016 and 2019. I still don't exactly know what caused it. But the understanding and the awareness that agriculture has this immense impact on climate change happened in that period. Instead of people focusing on oil, gas and fossil fuels as energy source, they suddenly also shift their attention to agriculture, how it's being made, where does it come from? What impact does it have that awareness is what consumers are more concerned of anything today, you can see it with the Beyond Meats and the Impossible Foods, people are hungry for alternatives. And new types of protein that add benefits to the things that they care about, is going to be a personal choice. But we can see that as a large group that is really open to these types of things. And as you think about the volumes, you only need to start with a small percentage of your population to start growing your product. Now over time, you will see that this product will become as normal as any other product you buy in the market. Because I think our grandparents never saw a cornflake in the store. So they now everybody's thinking about cornflakes. And I know I use cornflakes as an example. But there are many other of these products that weren't there when we were younger, our parents were young, and suddenly they are there and nobody cares anymore. It's just as normal as any other food product.
Anthony: Okay, the key question is, will your product be cost competitive?
Daan: Absolutely. This has to be the case, else this product will never fly, there are three key factors that we have to hit one, it has to taste good. That's what I'm saying. Right? If it doesn't taste good, nobody will buy it. But also, the second one has to be available. If you tried it once, but you go to the store, and you're thinking to yourself, oh, I would like to try this product again but it's nowhere to be found, you're not able to actually make the informed choice to buy it. So that's the second one. And the final one is cost. You tasted it once you bought it again. But hey, I'm not going to buy it again. Because it's really expensive, especially today, right? Inflation at an all time high food is getting more expensive. People vote with your wallet, if we can make a product that is maybe a little bit in the beginning a premium, but eventually as affordable as the current product is, then you won't be able to make the impact. And again, maybe I sound like a broken record. But this is really what Meatable’s all about making this impact on the planet to make sure that we don't eat ourselves to death, and that we can feed the planet in a more sustainable way for decades and even millennia to come.
Market Launch 2025
Anthony: Right. And you've got the funding behind you to take this right through to market launch in 2025.
Daan: We have been very lucky with our investors and the support that we've been getting. Even the Dutch government and the European government has supported us with either grants or subsidies, small ones to do some innovations that we also couldn't do ourselves for collaborations, but also just support in opening the door with conversations about the regulatory framework that we are facing. This is going to be very important, foods need to be very safe. I don't think I have to tell you that. If people distrust a food product because something happened to it then of course they won't buy it as well. But there is already an existing framework. And you know, we need to understand how it looks like we are a new company and this framework has been there for a very long time. So we need to understand what can do we have to do to show that the progress we're making is completely safe, which of course it is, but you need to show that to the government.
Tasting the Future
Anthony: Well, I look forward to 2025. I hope we'll keep in touch and I hope I'll have an opportunity to taste some of your products when you're ready to bring them to market.
Daan: Lovely Anthony. I'll definitely keep you posted when we fire up the barbecue.
Anthony: Well, thank you very much for talking to the Sustainable Futures Report. And I think it's been really interesting.
Daan: Have a great day Anthony.
Anthony: Thank you.
Meatable’s co-founder and CTO, Daan Luining.
There’s more at https://meatable.com
And that's it for this time. Next week I'm going to talk more about tomato soup and sunflowers, and about mashed potato and Monet. Yes it’s a protest, but is it a good idea? And what’s your carbon footprint, and what are you doing about it?
Thanks for listening and be sure not to miss next week’s episode of the Sustainable Futures Report. While you’re waiting why not sign up as a patron at patreon.com/sfr ? It keeps the podcast independent and ad free.
I’m Anthony Day
Until next time.