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Visiting the Future: Upside Foods

Visiting the Future is the start of a new series of brief interviews with cellular agriculture companies as Ahmed Khan visits their facilities as they share more about how they’re to produce the future of food.

On my first visit to California in four years to attend the Cultured Meat Symposium 2022, I had the opportunity to meet several cellular agriculture companies and see how they’ve grown since my last visit.

Founded in 2015, Upside Foods is the first startup founded to use cellular agriculture to produce cell-based meats. After launching its pilot facility in November 2021, Upside Foods raised the largest funding round to date for a cell-based meat company in April 2022.

On November 16, 2022, Upside Foods became the first cell-cultured meat company to receive a letter of no questions from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over the safety of its production process of making cell-cultured chicken meat.

I spoke with Upside Foods’ Director of Communications, David Kay, to learn more about the company’s facility and its plans moving forward.

Can you tell us about Upside Foods and what your team is producing right now?

Upside Foods is a cultivated meat, poultry, and seafood company. We're based in Berkeley, California, and we were the first ever cultivated meat company in the world.

And we are producing a number of products. We have designed our process to be species agnostic, meaning as long as we have the requisite cells, we can produce any type of meat you can imagine. 

The first commercial product we will launch into the world will be chicken. But we're working on others. For instance, we've publicly debuted beef and duck. We recently acquired Culture Decadence, which is focused on crustaceans. And there are a lot of exciting products that we can't wait to bring out into the world.

And we just walked around the Upside Foods’ EPIC facility. Can you please tell us a bit about what we just saw?

EPIC stands for Engineering, Production, and Innovation facility. It is Upside Foods’ first production facility, and it is the most advanced production facility in the cultivated meat industry. We had a ribbon cutting on it earlier. It is the first facility that will bring our cultivated meat products to consumers, pending the completion of regulatory review.

As currently configured, once fully up and running, EPIC can produce up to 50,000 pounds of meat per year. If we were to fully optimize the space for production capacity, it would be up to 400,000 pounds per year. And we're just getting started.

It's just the first step in scaling this field for the whole meat market. The other thing about EPIC is that I mentioned it's an engineering, production, and innovation center. And that's a crucial part of the main goal and purpose of EPIC, which is to serve as a learning facility so that we can try different things, understand what production modalities work best, and maintain these cutting-edge technological developments.

As 2022 wraps up, what has been one of the highlights or milestones for Upside Foods?

I would say number one is the series C funding round, which is the largest funding round in the cultivated meat industry. It also brought our valuation up to over a billion dollars, which is, to our knowledge, the largest valuation in the cultivated meat industry.

This will allow us to really forge ahead in terms of scaling up production, like building a future commercial production facility where we’ll be able to produce, we expect, in the tens of millions of pounds, which is orders of magnitude above what EPIC is capable of.

It will also enable us to develop a supply chain that is reliable and that we can use to produce these products at scale.

The acquisition of Cultured Decadence is a huge milestone as well. It gives us a presence in the Midwest. It's an incredible team that we brought in, and they've done a lot of really impressive work on cultivated crustaceans, focusing on lobsters in particular.

As a communications director, we also had some really exciting coverage in the New York Times and other outlets this year. Again, it is part of the journey towards increasing consumer education, letting consumers understand the process, the people behind the company, the mission, and the why behind the company.

That is one of the things that we're really starting to focus on more and more.

And moving forward into 2023, what are the plans for Upside Foods?

I don't want to speculate on timelines or when exactly when things will happen, but as soon as the regulatory review process is complete, we are going to commercialize our products in the US. And so we're incredibly excited for that moment.

Initially, it will be at a small scale, but then the challenge will be scaling up that production over time. So that's something we're really excited about. We're also looking at locations for our commercial production. Again, orders of magnitude above what EPIC can produce.

And we're going to continue growing the team. We are the largest cultivated meat company in the world. We have lots of open positions on our website, and there are lots of new folks that we’re excited to bring into the fold as we continue to scale.

Is there anything else we should discuss about the future of food?

The work you're doing at CellAgri is super important, and the importance of communicating what the industry is doing to the world is really great.

We really want consumers to understand and do more of a deeper dive into where their food comes from. We think we can be a solution to some of the challenges facing our food system.

And we're just really excited to see how the industry has proliferated following the founding of Upside Foods in 2015. There are now cultivated meat companies on every continent but Antarctica.

Photographs of the facility by Upside Foods.

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