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Lab-grown chicken start-up slashes production costs

Israeli start-up Future Meat has claimed a huge leap towards commercial viability for its lab-grown chicken, slashing production costs by almost half in just a few months.

The company, whose backers include Archer Daniels Midland, Tyson Foods and S2G, said it was now producing a 110 gramme chicken breast for just under $4, down from $7.50 announced at the start of the year.

Rom Kshuk, chief executive, said he expected the cost to fall to below $2 in the next 12-18 months.

Alternative protein companies, which include plant-based, lab-grown and fermentation start-ups, are racing to come up with a product that mimics conventional meat in taste while also competing on price. 

Although meat made from animal cells grown in cultivators is only currently commercially available in Singapore, more than 50 cell-based start-ups worldwide are vying to get their product to market.

Kshuk said his company was focused on gaining regulatory approval in the US and hoped he would get the nod from the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration next year. 

“We will launch a product in the US market in the next 18 months that will have a commercially viable price,” he told the Financial Times. 

Getting the taste, texture and price all right is the holy grail for alternative protein companies, according to analysts at Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon, a Switzerland-based food tech venture capital group.

In a recent report on alternative proteins, it said 11 per cent of US, UK and German consumers were “very interested” in alternative proteins, while 66 per cent were “somewhat interested, indifferent, or somewhat not interested”. For uninterested consumers, “the key changes that would increase their interest are improved taste and a lower price”.

Plant-based meat, made from products such as legumes, is leading the pack in terms of commercialisation. In terms of cost relative to conventional meat, each of the three types of alternative proteins are at different stages of parity, according to BCG. 

To get consumers to repeatedly purchase alternative proteins, the cost must match or be lower than conventional meat, it said. 

One of the big costs for cultivated meat companies has been the nutrient for the meat cells, and cutting the cost of this “feed” has been key to reducing the cost of production.

Future Meat has successfully found a way to do this, said Sanjeev Krishnan, chief investment officer at S2G, a US agri and food tech venture capital group that has invested in the business. The start-up “is scaling production in a capital-efficient way”, he said.

Alternative proteins' price could reach parity with real meat over next decade or so TRACE

In Singapore, US-based Eat Just became the first cell-cultured meat company to receive regulatory approval and offer its product to consumers.

Its cell-based chicken has been available for delivery at S$20 (US$15) a serving, a lossmaking price for the company. However, Eat Just said its costs had fallen more than 90 per cent thanks to a fivefold increase in cell density and a steep drop in nutrient costs.

According to the US Bureau of Labour, the average price in cities of a chicken breast is about $0.80 per 110g.

Kshuk said both he and rivals can beat BCG’s 2032 cost-parity prediction, saying he expected Future Meat to do so in about eight years.

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