Lab-grown meat moves closer to commercial reality – but significant steps remain before it hits tables worldwide, says Oakland Innovation
Burgeoning interest in cultured meat is likely to increase after regulators in Singapore announced the world’s first commercial approval for a lab-grown product on Wednesday 2 December. The “guilt-free” chicken nuggets, produced in the US, are just one of a growing number of alternative proteins piquing the interest of companies and consumers worldwide. Plant-based burgers, sausages, steaks and nuggets – which seek to mimic the characteristic flavour, mouth-feel and other aspects of the meat-eating experience – have appeared in supermarkets and fast-food outlets at an increasing pace over recent years. Behind the scenes, investors have also been busy ploughing capital into what some see as the logical next step, cultured meat, which aims to address some of the same ethical and environmental concerns around raising animals for food, with the added attraction of being made from real animal protein, rather than a plant-derived facsimile.
The regulatory steps taken in Singapore bring the possibility of widespread commercially available cultured meat products far closer to reality and may anticipate similar changes to come in regulatory jurisdictions around the world. We’ve already seen wide-raging interest in this arena – from funding of technology start-ups, through to early stage exploration by corporates – so it’s exciting to see regulators in Singapore taking this step.
However more work will need to be done before lab-grown meat becomes a staple of diets, with a number of hurdles yet to be overcome. Scaling this technology, developing the skills and infrastructure needed to a place where you can meet a price point that consumers will find attractive, remains a challenge. What's that price point going to be like compared to conventional meat or, even, plant-based protein products? What decisions will consumers take when faced with the choice of cultured, conventional and plant-based meats? And there’s the ‘ick’ factor to be considered. How open are customers to the idea of meat made in a lab? There’s still a long way to go before this is in any way a mainstream proposition, but the learnings that can come from Singapore’s experience will no doubt be invaluable.
- Phil Mackie, Managing Partner, Food and Beverage, Oakland Innovation
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Science Group offers independent advisory and leading-edge product development services focused on science and technology initiatives. Its specialist companies Sagentia Innovation, Leatherhead Food Research, TSG Consulting and Frontier Smart Technologies collaborate closely with their clients in key vertical markets to deliver clear returns on technology and R&D investments.