“Hybrid meat”? Meatable wants to get lab-grown meat to market faster by combining it with plant-based protein • TechCrunch

Alternative meat, fish and dairy products are all the rage in startup land, with countless companies raising boatloads of cash and showcasing their first products throughout 2022.

There are two broad categories within the meat substitute space in particular: plant-based foods that strive to mimic the texture, look, and feel of real meat, and “lab-grown” cultured meat created from animal cells. in a test tube. Although everyone is actually trying to solve similar problems, in front of saving the planet by weaning humans off their addiction to animal protein, they each have their respective pros and cons.

For starters, plant-based meat alternatives are already widely available to buy globally, while lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, with Singapore currently being the only market in the world where cultured meat is allowed to be sold. The Asian city-state has emerged as something of a center of gravity for the burgeoning fake meat movement: just this week, Australia’s Vow announced a $49.2 million funding round to bring its meat-based product of cultured meat in Singapore restaurants by the end of this year.

It’s against this backdrop that Meatable, a VC-backed Dutch company that recently launched its first product line in the form of synthetic sausages, today announced a partnership with Singaporean food startup Love Handle to create what it calls “the The world’s first innovation of hybrid meat center.”

This builds on Meatable’s recent expansion into the Singapore market, where it has partnered with Esco Aster to develop cultured pork products, with plans to invest approximately $60 million over the next five years in the wider Singaporean market. Singapore.

Meatable’s fake sausages look like the real thing

(not) alive…

The phrase “hybrid meat” in the context of a lab-grown meat company might perhaps elicit a dystopian vision straight from the pages of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, but when one learns that Love Handle is actually a “plant-based butcher,” one can start to relax a bit — Meatable isn’t stitching together different animal components. The two companies are teaming up to blend the best of both worlds: cultured meat and plant-based protein alternatives.

What Meatable and Love Handle are striving for here isn’t entirely new: Others are working towards a similar end, and we’re seeing similar moves elsewhere to reduce animal consumption through products that combine real meat with plant-based alternatives. The idea is that while a burger might still contain real beef, it contains less, which can only be better for the environment (and people’s health).

But what exactly is the motivation of a company like Meatable, which operates entirely behind its foundation of “fake real meat”? It all boils down to cost and getting things to market faster. Cultured meat is expensive to develop in a lab setting, and critics say there is little to suggest it will be affordable enough to scale to any significant level in the foreseeable future. Additionally, there are significant regulatory barriers (even in Singapore, where it’s approved for consumption), not to mention the mental barriers associated with consuming lab-grown meat.

So, by blending cultured and plant-based meat alternatives, this could basically lower all barriers to entry.

“We decided to launch hybrid products in Singapore to help customers become more familiar with cultured meat faster,” Meatable Commercial Director Caroline Wilschut told TechCrunch. “We know that the idea of ​​consuming cultured meat still requires further education in terms of what it is, how we develop it and how we can produce it without harming animals, the planet and people. The faster we launch, the faster we can kickstart that education to build consumer acceptance and start making an impact with harmless meat.

Learning from electric cars

It’s worth noting that Meatable isn’t going all-in on the hybrid model — it’s still continuing its lab-based work to distribute 100 percent lab-grown meat. But with the new innovation center in Singapore, it is “seizing yet another opportunity in a favorable regulatory environment,” according to Wilschut.

“Meatable continues with the development of fully cultured meat, however, we have also determined that hybrid products can be launched faster than fully cultured meat,” he said. “Meatable believes a hybrid product will help gain acceptance among customers and maximize its reach in Singapore.”

The goal here can perhaps be likened to something like that of a hybrid electric vehicle: It helps bring a nascent technology to the masses more quickly. And while there are a few other players dabbling with hybrids in terms of adding a little cultured meat to a basically plant-based product, Meatable says it’s turning the tables on that concept.

“In this case, Meatable and Love Handle are taking a cultured meat approach, which means they’re starting with Meatable’s cultured meat and adding Love Handle’s plant protein to develop a hybrid product that — in testing — came out as indistinguishable from real meat in taste and texture,” Wilschut said.

This gets to the crux of why hybrid products might be a better idea. Purely plant-based meat alternatives typically lack the taste and texture of real meat, so by bringing together two distinct forms of animal-free meat alternatives, this could help scale everything up for all involved – a win for both Meatable and Love. handle.

This brings us back to the main topic of today’s announcement. What exactly will Singapore’s new innovation center do? According to Wilschut, the lab is expected to fully open in 2023, with both companies co-investing in talent starting with about 10 new hires. It will feature a kitchen and laboratory with all the machines and materials needed to bring hybrid food products to market, while also serving as a commercial front-end for all that goes on behind the scenes, with room for consumers to try and purchase products directly .

“Both companies will invest in the lab, operate the innovation center and together hire the talent and resources to run it,” Wilschut said.

Meatable and Love Handle say they plan to market the new hybrid products starting in 2024, with a range including ravioli, pulled pork, pork belly, meatballs, salami and meatballs.

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