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January 2021: The Month in Review

2020 was a significant year for cellular agriculture. From record investments and product showcases to the first regulatory approval for cell-based meat, the year 2020 brought cellular agriculture closer to being a viable, sustainable future of food.

After the record-breaking year, 2021 is already off to a great start for the field. From new investments and partnerships to bring cell-based meat to market, we highlight what happened this January in cellular agriculture

Investments

BlueNalu

BlueNalu announced the company raised $60 million in financing. Based in San Diego, California, BlueNalu uses cellular agriculture to grow cell-based seafood.

The largest financing round to date for a cell-based seafood company, BlueNalu’s convertible note financing was led by Rage Capital and featured new and previous investors, including Agronomics, Lewis & Clark AgriFood, McWin, and Siddhi Capital. 

The financing brings BlueNalu’s total funding to $84.5 million. In February 2020, BlueNalu previously raised $20 million in Series A funding. and $4.5 million in seed funding in August 2018.

BlueNalu plans to use the new financing to achieve several milestones over the coming year. Along with the opening of its new pilot production facility, BlueNalu aims to complete the FDA regulatory review for its first cell-based seafood product this year. With this timeline, BlueNalu may be the first cell-based meat, let alone seafood, company to receive regulatory approval in the US. 

BlueNalu also aims to initiate marketplace testing in a variety of foodservice establishments across the United States to bring seafood to market. BlueNalu plans to launch with a cell-based mahi mahi fish later this year followed by the launch of a cell-based bluefin tuna meat.

 

Vow Food

To start off the year, Australian cell-based meat startup Vow Food announced that the company raised $6 million (AUD $7.7 million) in their seed funding round. Founded by George Peppou and Tim Noakesmith, Vow Food is a cell-based meat startup building a library of different cell lines from both domesticated and undomesticated animal species to explore a range of animal meats for food purposes.

Vow Food’s seed round was led by Square Peg Capital and featured investments from Blackbird Ventures, Grok Ventures, and Tenacious Ventures. Vow Food plans to use the funding round to accelerate its research and development as well as grow its team. According to Vow, the company has raised just under $8 million USD in total.

After a strong 2020, the new funding round marks a strong start to the year for Vow Food. In September 2020, Vow Food partnered with renown Australian chef Neil Perry to create a unique menu using its cell-based meats. From a goat cheeseburger slider and alpaca chili tarama to kangaroo crystal dumplings, Vow Food’s showcase displayed a wide and diverse range of foods.

In April 2020, Vow Food co-founders George Peppou and Tim Noakesmith were also named in Forbes 30-Under-30 Asia list of entrepreneurs. The list commemorates innovative founders and startups, and it’s great to see that the Vow Food co-founders were recognized for their work to change the future of food

 

Mirai Foods

New startup Mirai Foods announced the startup raised $2.4 million in seed funding. Based in Zurich, Switzerland, Mirai Foods is the first Swiss startup to use cellular agriculture to grow cell-based meat.

From family offices and mission-aligned individuals to venture funds, Mirai Foods’ seed round featured 7 investors. Notable investors included the venture arm of European food corporate Paulig Group, PINC, and technology investment company Team Europe.

Mirai Foods plans to use the funding round to accelerate development of its cell-based meat and work on transforming its prototype into a commercial product. According to the press release, Mirai Foods developed its first cell-based meat prototype last summer, within 6 months of launching.

Beyond producing the same meat from animal cells, Mirai Foods aims to design its meat to offer superior health benefits when compared to conventional meat products. While the startup is focusing on creating a variety of product lines, Mirai Foods’ first product will be a cell-based beef.

 

Spanish Government Supports Cultured Meat Project by BioTech Foods

Spanish cell-based meat startup BioTech Foods announced it will lead a €5.2 million cultured meat project funded by the Spanish government.  Called the CULTUREDMEAT project, the research consortium will explore how producing meat from cell cultures can lead to the development of meat products that prevent colon cancer and dyslipidemia (increased concentration of cholesterol and lipids in the blood). In October 2020, a BioTech Foods-led research consortium Meat4All was allocated €2.7 million for cell-based meat research from the European Union through its Horizon 2020 Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

Between the Spanish government and the Horizon 2020 project, it is interesting to see how these two projects support important research into different aspects of cell-based meat. While the Horizon 2020 research consortium focuses on scaling cell-based meat production capacity, the Spanish government project aims to understand the health implications of growing meat directly from cells. Looking at the individual and public health implications of cell-based meat is just as important in the field’s long-term viability. While scaling will bring the products to market, the health implications may influence consumer acceptance of the novel field and food products made from cells.

 

TurtleTree Launches TurtleTree Scientific

Singapore cell-based milk company TurtleTree Labs announced the launch of spinoff company TurtleTree Scientific to produce growth factors for cellular agriculture companies. Growth factors are an important ingredient in the cell culture media to help cells grow, and developing affordable and high-quality growth factors for the industry is a major scaling pain point. In December, TurtleTree Labs raised $6.2 million in pre-Series A funding to produce milk directly from cell cultures.

 

Aleph Farms Partners with Mitsubishi Corporation to bring Cell-Based Meat to Japan

Cell-based meat company Aleph Farms signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Mitsubishi Corporation’s Food Industry Group to bring cell-based meat to Japan. According to the partnership, Aleph Farms will provide its scalable cell-based meat manufacturing platform, dubbed ‘BioFarm’, and Mitsubishi will provide its biotechnological expertise, branded food manufacturing, and local distribution channels in Japan. Aleph Farms also shared this is a part of its network of ‘BioFarm to Fork’ strategic partnerships to bring cell-based meat to Asia Pacific, Latin America, and Europe.

After Eat Just brought the first cell-based meat to market in Singapore, it is great to see Aleph Farms form a partnership with Mitsubishi Corporation’s Food Industry Group to work together to do the same in Japan. The Food Industry Group covers a wide range of food products and is active in every aspect of the food supply chain, including production and sourcing of raw materials.

Interestingly, Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi Corporation are both members of the “Cellular Agriculture Study Group” in Japan, a consortium implementing policy proposals under the Japanese Center for Rule-Making Strategy. The consortium aims to bring together experts in the field on the definition and construction of cellular agriculture foods. The study group aims to also add clarification of conditions for Japanese products and technologies to compete internationally in the field as well as establish processes for coexistence and division of roles within existing industries.

 

Clear Meat Files Patent for Cell-Based Chicken in India

Indian cell-based meat startup ClearMeat filed a patent for its proprietary technology in India to produce its cell-based minced chicken. ClearMeat filed the patent after completing its pilot study for its minced chicken meat where the startup claims to have reached price parity with conventional chicken meat. ClearMeat also shared that the startup is participating in discussions with government officials and authorities at the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India for the regulatory approval of cell-based chicken in India.

 

Avant Meats Partners with Vietnamese Seafood Giant

Hong Kong-based Avant Meats announced a strategic partnership with Vietnamese seafood giant Vinh Hoan Corporation (VHC). According to the partnership, Avant Meats will leverage VHC’s global sales network and manufacturing capabilities to accelerate commercialization of its cell-based seafood. The largest pangasius fish producer in the world, it is promising to see VHC make partnership with Avant Meats to diversify its portfolio and apply its expertise into the cellular agriculture supply chain.  

The new partnership marks a great start to the year for Avant Meats after a strong end to 2020. In December, Avant Meats announced the company raised $3.1 million in seed funding to accelerate its research to produce cell-based seafood. Prior to that, in November, Avant Meats showcased its latest prototype: a cell-based fish fillet. This is the region’s first showcase of a cell-based fish fillet showcase. Through the funding round, Avant Meats aims to commercialize its cell-based fish in 2021.

Ethicameat: 41% of Spaniards willing to taste Cultured Meat

Along with announcing the Spanish government-funded project, Spanish cell-based meat company Biotech Foods completed the first survey about public perception about cell-based meat in Spain. Branding its cell-based meat as Ethicameat, the company found that 41% of Spanish consumers would probably taste cell-based meat once it reaches the market. As more companies aim to release a product to market, it will be important to clearly communicate the benefits of cellular agriculture and prevent any negative public perception of food that comes from cell cultures instead of from animals.

 

Bolt Threads partners for Mushroom Leather Shoes

Mushroom leather, anyone? Adidas announced a partnership with biomaterial company Bolt Threads to produce shoes using Bolt Threads’ fungi-based leather alternative Mylo. Unlike conventional leather, Mylo is a leather material produced from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. In October 2020, Bolt Threads announced partnership with notable fashion brands Adidas, Lululemon, Kerin, and Stella McCartney to create the Mylo Consortium to use its innovative product. It is unclear when Adidas’ new fungi-based shoes will be available.

 

New Cell-Based Meat Startup DiverseFarm launches in Japan

Renowned Japanese chef Shimamura Masaharu and cellular technology company TissueByNet announced a partnership to launch DiverseFarm to bring cell-based meat to the table. The new DiverseFarm company will bring together TissueByNet’s proprietary cell-based meat production technology with Masaharu’s culinary expertise to create a range of Japanese delicacies. Items featured on the DiverseFarm website include deep-fried cultured duck meat mochi balls, roasted cultured duck loin, and steamed cultured chicken.

 

NovaMeat Prints Cultured Fat with Plant-Based Scaffold

Based in Spain, NovaMeat is a plant-based startup using 3D printing technology to produce whole cut plant-based products like steak. And this month, NovaMeat announced the company incorporated cell-cultured fat cells into its plant-based product to make the largest cell-based meat prototype to date at the size of 22,500 mm3. By incorporating cell-based fat cells into a prototype, NovaMeat demonstrated how its 3D printing technology can develop hybrid meat products to get the optimum taste and flavour from cell-cultured fats and the structural support from its plant-based components. 

NovaMeat also received an €250,000 investment from the Spanish government through its NEOTEC Programme to accelerate its work to scale its 3D printers to produce thousands of kilograms of its plant-based whole cuts.

 

In the World of Plant-Based

Air Protein

Would you eat protein straight out of the air? Alternative protein company Air Protein raised a massive $32 million in series A funding to commercialize its meat alternative using protein made by microbes converting carbon dioxide into protein. The round included funding by ADM Ventures, who has previously invested in Perfect Day and Geltor. Interestingly, in terms of labelling its protein, Air Protein CEO Dr. Lisa Dyson commented that ‘culture-based’ may be the most appropriate term. For consumers, would that clearly distinguish protein directly from air from cell-cultured meat?

Beyond Meat

To start off the year, plant-based meat company Beyond Meat signed a 12-year lease valued at more than $178 million for its new headquarters  in El Segundo, California. The new facility will allow Beyond Meat to more than triple its current research personnel and support multiple product line production. According to Vegconomist, Beyond Meat’s new facility makes the company one of the largest and most technologically advanced plant-based research centers.

Along with the new facility, Beyond Meat announced the company formed a joint venture with PepsiCo to create, produce, and market a new range of plant-based snacks and beverages. While it is unclear what the products may be, the joint venture will be managed under the PLANeT Partnership. The partnership allows Beyond to leverage Pepsi’s marketing and production expertise to explore new market and product opportunities.

Impossible Foods

For the second time in a year, Impossible Foods dropped the wholesale cost of its plant-based meat. With wholesale prices at $6.80 per pound at the lowest, Impossible’s plant-based meat is still above and getting closer to the average price of $5.32 per pound for conventional meat. By further reducing the price of its product, Impossible Foods aims to ultimately undercut the price of conventional meat and persuade consumers to adopt its meat alternative.

 

Conclusion

Last year, January 2020 set the tone for the rest of the year with Memphis Meats raising the largest funding round to date for a cell-based meat company. In spite of the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the cellular agriculture industry continued to move forward and achieve significant milestones to become part of the future of food, including record investments into the field.

Like the previous year, January 2021 began strongly for the field to carry on moving the field’s momentum forward. With three funding rounds, investments in January 2021 alone exceeded all cell-based meat investments in the year 2019. More specifically, BlueNalu’s funding round nearly doubled all disclosed funding in cellular agriculture seafood companies.

Moving forward, like last year before the pandemic shifted plans, the field will see more partnerships between established companies in the food industry and cellular agriculture startups. Aleph Farm’s partnership with Mitsubishi’s Food Industry Group and Avant Meat’s partnership with VHC highlight how food industry players can enter the cellular agriculture field.

As the year progresses, beyond conventional food, meat, and agricultural players, it is possible more pharmaceutical and biotech companies will look to enter the field to apply their expertise to build the supply chain around the future food field. Along with specific startups looking to support scale cell-based meat production, there are plenty of opportunities for companies to develop an entire ecosystem around the cellular agriculture field.

It would be promising to see BlueNalu become the first cell-based seafood company to receive regulatory approval and the first cell-based meat company in the US to receive approval. In May 2020, Perfect Day became the first cellular agriculture company to bring a product to market through its partnership with Smittens Ice Cream to use its flora-based dairy proteins.

After Singapore became the first country to give regulatory approval to end 2020, it is likely the next country to give regulatory approval for cell-based meat in Asia, either in East Asia or in the Middle East. Just like Singapore, the most appealing benefit of cellular agriculture for countries and governments in Asia is food security. Without requiring as many resources, like land and water for farming, countries that rely heavily on food imports can now produce enough food for their populations locally through building food processing and manufacturing facilities. 

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