Meatable is a Dutch foodtech company that creates cultivated meat that not only looks and tastes like traditional meat but has a similar nutritional profile.
The startup recently announced its partnership in Singapore with ESCO Aster, a Singaporean food manufacturer to produce cultivated pork, including dumplings and sausages, for consumers.
KrASIA chatted with Daan Luining, co-founder and CTO of Meatable.
This interview has been consolidated and edited for brevity and clarity.
KrASIA (Kr): How did the idea of setting up Meatable come about?
Daan Luining (DL): Meatable was founded in the Netherlands by Krijn de Nood (CEO), myself, and Dr. Mark Kotter (principal inventor of opti-ox technology) in 2018, with the aim of producing cultivated meat that not only looks and tastes like traditional meat but also has a similar nutritional profile.
This is to serve the planet’s growing appetite for meat without harming people, animals, or the environment.
Kr: Why partner with a company in Singapore?
DL: Singapore is a global leader when it comes to cultivated meat. It was the first country to approve the production and sales of cultivated meat in 2020 as part of its 30 by 30 strategy, which aims to build its agri-food industry’s capability and capacity to produce 30% of the country’s nutritional needs locally and sustainably by 2030.
As ESCO Aster is the first and only production facility in Singapore with regulatory approval to produce cultivated meats, we decided that a partnership would be the best way to launch in Singapore.
ESCO Aster also shares our belief that cultivated meat will have a positive impact on the global meat industry, and that is helping to drive our partnership.
In short, we’ll benefit from their expertise and facilities without having to build our own at the beginning. It also gives us the opportunity to launch our products faster into the market.
We’re taking things step by step for now, and we want to scale in a sustainable way.
Kr: Any reason why Meatable is making its foray into Asia with cultivated pork?
DL: The global dumpling market is poised to grow by USD 4 billion between 2021 and 2025. To serve this demand, we are working closely with Singaporean chefs to develop pork specifically for the Asian market.
The aim is that Meatable’s dumplings and other cultivated pork products, including sausages and minced meat, will be the perfect choice for local partners in Singapore and the wider Asian market who are looking to diversify their consumer offerings with a tasty, healthy, cultivated meat which is produced locally while staying true to the local cuisine.
Kr: How different is cultured meat from other meat variants, such as plant-based meat?
DL: We take one cell from the umbilical cord of an animal and combine it with our opti-ox technology to grow cultivated meat. Therefore, no harm is done to the animal.
Cultivated meat tastes, smells, and has the same texture as real meat but without the negative impact on the planet and animals.
On the other hand, plant-based meat is not real meat—it uses ingredients derived from plants to mimic the properties of meat to a certain degree.
Kr: What markets are you targeting?
DL: At the moment, the partnership we have with ESCO Aster is focused on the launch in Singapore. As soon as other countries introduce regulatory approval for the production and sale of cultivated meat, we will look to expand to those countries too, including Asia, the EU, and the US.
Kr: Tell us more about proprietary technologies that you’ve developed for cultivating meat.
DL: We take one cell from the umbilical cord of an animal—so no harm is done to the animal—and grow cultivated meat using our opti-ox technology.
Our technique uses stem/pluripotent cells—these cells only need to be taken once from the animal. Not only does this cause no harm to the animal, but pluripotent cells are also superior to the other stem cells often used by cultivated meat companies because they are more versatile and grow faster.
Pluripotent cells divide 2 to 2.5 times faster than non-pluripotent cells, proliferating to create meat the size of a sausage in just a couple of weeks. Not to mention, this is much more efficient compared to growing animals for meat, which can take years.
Another thing that sets Meatable apart from other cultivated meat players is that we have never used fetal bovine serum (FBS)—a by-product derived from harvesting cattle. Since the beginning, we have used opti-ox technology to create cultivated meat.
Working with this technology means that we don’t need to use FBS, which is conventionally used in cultured meat production for its nutrient content to help grow cultivated meat.
Kr: What are the major challenges that you face in the commercial production of cultured meat?
DL: First, we need to carry out the technological transfer to Singapore, after which we can file our products for regulatory approval with the Singapore Food Agency (SFA), the national authority for food safety in Singapore.
Singapore has a framework called the Requirements for the Safety Assessment of Novel Foods, which includes analyzing the safety of our products, including conducting toxicology tests and assessing all components of the product. It takes between six and nine months to get approval from the SFA.
In the beginning, our supply will be small, but Meatable aims to scale up as quickly as possible.
Kr: How do you intend to navigate the regulatory challenges of cultured meat?
DL: Meatable is currently in conversation with the SFA. We are staying in close contact with the regulatory body and will do our best to comply with their requirements. After the technology transfer and when the production is up and running, we will start filing for approval with the SFA.
Kr: Cultured meat is more costly than regular meat. For example, Eat Just’s lab-grown chicken dish was priced at SGD 23 at private members’ club 1880 in Singapore. Do you think cultivated meat’s high cost will hamper consumer demand?
DL: Our focus will begin with working directly with restaurants to sell our cultivated pork. This is for two reasons: the supply will be limited in the beginning, and chefs can help us educate consumers, as restaurants are a perfect backdrop for storytelling around food.
In the earlier stages, we expect the price point to be slightly higher than farmed pork meat. However, in the future, after scaling and through continuous process development, we expect to achieve cost parity with conventional meat.
Kr: What trends do you see in the cultured meat industry moving forward?
DL: We believe in a future of meat with minimal impact on the planet and animals. We envision a future where cultivated meat is available in the supermarket, along with plant-based meat and organically grown meat.
McKinsey & Company estimates that the market for cultivated meat could reach USD 25 billion by 2030 if cultivated meat companies are able to “replicate a wide variety of both processed meats and whole cuts” and distribute them globally.