Eat Just, a San Francisco-based startup that primarily manufactures plant-based eggs, has been making headlines recently for manufacturing lab-grown chicken and getting the green light from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to sell it to the masses in Singapore.
On December 19, Eat Just debuted the world’s first sale of its cultured meat for human consumption to 1880, a private social club in Singapore, which received raving reviews from customers. A survey conducted after the event showed that the majority of the attendees found that the taste was equivalent to conventional chicken meat and that they were open to consuming cultured chicken more regularly.
Investor and public confidence seem to herald a bright and promising future for this revolutionary food company, which is backed by a slew of big investors, including Temasek Holdings, Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, Charlesbank Capital Partners, Li Ka-shing, and Vulcan Capital.
Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just told Vulcan Post over a Zoom interview that the company has gone through a long journey to reach this stage of maturity.
It has been in operation for 8.5 years now, and only by the seventh year did it successfully launch and sell its plant-based egg substitute Just Egg. To add on, it was only able to sell Good Meat to the public last December.
Raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Josh Tetrick grew up with dreams of becoming a football player but quickly abandoned this ambition when he realized that he was not cut out for it. He did a lot of charity work in Sub-Saharan Africa, including a United Nations initiative in Kenya and teaching kids in multiple African countries as a Fullbright Scholar, but felt that it was not enough to make a difference.
Rather, he felt that the most effective way to enact positive change in the world was through business intervention. In 2011, together with his best friend Josh Balk, he co-founded a California-based food technology company with a single mission to fix the world’s broken food system. However, it has not been a straightforward trajectory for the team.
Challenging the status quo
Whether it is building the technology, understanding how to hire the right people, working with the right investors to ensure that it has the capital to build whatever necessary, and challenging a big assumption of the global food system, Eat Just has made possible what was previously thought to be impossible. “There has been a lot of resistance,” Josh said. “We worked with regulators for two years to sell cultured meat in Singapore.”
The team’s final regulatory achievement involved an iterative and extensive safety review by the SFA. During this process, Eat Just complied with SFA’s food safety requirements for the assessment of novel foods.
In addition, Eat Just’s cultured chicken was also confirmed to be safe and nutritious for human consumption by a distinguished panel of international scientific authorities in Singapore and the United States, with expertise in medicine, toxicology, allergenicity, cell biology, and food safety.
Josh learned that growing meat in a lab is easy to do on a small scale, but difficult to do in a large manufacturing environment. Another big challenge comes from the pushback it receives from uneasy customers who question the “naturalness” of lab-grown meat.
Over 60 billion chickens are slaughtered every year for mass production. They live in cramped cages and are fed antibiotics that can lead to various public and health hazards for consumers.
Josh pointed out that this does not only apply to chickens. Near 100% of animals consumed today are bred through industrialized production and only very few are raised under natural conditions. “So tell me, what is natural about our current food system?” Josh asked.
Josh explained that the cultured chicken meat is created directly from unmodified (non-GMO) animal cells that are cultivated in a bioreactor. These cells are fed with a host of nutrients necessary for an animal to grow and thrive—including carbohydrates, amino acids, fats, minerals and vitamins, so that they can multiply and form chunks of meat.
“It acts like a chicken”
Kaimana Chee, a resident chef with Eat Just who has been experimenting and cooking with Just Egg and Good Meat, as well as working with other chefs to perfect different alternative meat product recipes, said there are no cons whatsoever in using cultured meat. “It tastes like chicken, it acts like chicken, it cooks like chicken. It is healthier, there is no after taste, and to some people, it even tastes better!”
Their cultured chicken was manufactured at the Food Innovation and Resource Center, a food research facility co-run by Singapore Polytechnic and Enterprise Singapore. “We scoured the globe before deciding to push production in Singapore,” Josh explained to Vulcan Post. “Good Meat is basically a Singapore story.”
The company recognized how forward-thinking the government and the citizens are, and that the city-state’s regulatory environment was the most suitable for their launch. “The regulatory board is very evidence-based. It is not easy to pass the evaluation as it is very stringent and thorough but it is all very scientific, objective, and fair. Singapore is the best place in the world to launch our product.”
Singapore has since set a historical leading example for the rest of the world by approving the commercial sales and consumption of cultured meat. The SFA, in particular, has set a target of producing 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030, which has led to a rise in food technology startups here.
Growing proteins in Singapore
As it continues to commercially scale, Eat Just said that it plans to invest “tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure” to reduce costs. Last October, Eat Just announced plans to build a plant protein facility in Singapore to meet the demands for alternative animal products in the region.
Since identifying Singapore as a “major focus” for the company, Eat Just plans to ramp up its presence here. In fact, it has been working extensively with the Economic Development Board to hire local talent. In terms of new product launches, the company is looking to explore cultured beef next year, as it intends to diversify its product offerings and come up with alternatives for different animal products.
Beyond Singapore, the company plans to export to China, Japan, South Korea, and Europe once regulatory approval is granted. Josh envisions that Eat Just will eventually build other facilities all over the world and push for production and distribution across the globe. “We will make this mainstream,” he concludes optimistically.
As the first cultured meat company in the world to publicly sell to consumers, Eat Just has gained the first mover advantage in this industry. If it manages to keep its pace ahead of its global competitors, Eat Just has the potential to secure market shares and play a big part in shaping the future of cultured meat.
This article was originally published by Vulcan Post.