Two cell-based meat companies announced their pilot plants — one in California belonging to Wildtype and one in Israel belonging to Future Meat Technologies — are operating this week.
Wildtype, a San Francisco-based company dedicated to making cell-based sushi-quality seafood, announced today its combination pilot plant, tasting room and educational center in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood is operational. The demonstration-scale plant is about 7,700 square feet — about the size of a microbrewery, the company said. Wildtype's first product is cell-based sushi-grade salmon, and the company says it has a crew of six people running the facility.
"Global demand for seafood is outpacing supply, so the status quo needs to change. Our pilot plant will showcase the promise and wonder of growing fish fillets using cell cultivation," Wildtype co-founder Aryé Elfenbein said in a written statement. "In addition to being designed to shorten innovation cycles and facilitate the scaling of food production, the facility will be a place where the public can learn about this fascinating new technology."
The pilot plant was built out in an industrial building in the middle of a neighborhood to show that cell-based production facilities can be relatively close to the businesses they serve, according to a planned Medium post the company shared with Food Dive. And while the facility houses the high-tech equipment needed to grow cell-based meat, nothing is bolted down, allowing for changes as new discoveries impact the larger industry, the post says. As it is currently configured, the plant will be able to make 50,000 pounds of seafood a year. Wildtype said the plant's maximum capacity is more than 200,000 pounds of seafood a year.
The plant was designed with transparency in mind. A glass door separates the tasting room and educational center — which Wildtype calls "The Dock" — from the pilot plant where the meat is produced. The tasting room is expected to open later this summer.
"It is almost impossible to visit the slaughterhouses or fish processing plants where our meat and seafood are made," the Medium post says. "Beyond reconnecting people to their food on an emotional level (rather than avoiding the hard truths behind where it came from), to us transparency means breaking down these barriers and letting people see where their food comes from."
Wildtype has raised a total of $20 million — $16 million in funding rounds in 2018 and 2019 and a $4 million venture debt round last year — which has funded this plant, the company said.
While the plant is allowing Wildtype to scale its cell-based offerings, the company said it is not meant to be its large-scale production facility. Its purpose is to allow for demonstration-scale accelerated innovation cycles, honing production methods and educating the public on cellular agriculture. Wildtype is already looking for a site to build its larger production facility, and the company said access to water and clean energy are top priorities.
Wildtype says conversations with sushi restaurants and other providers who want to use its products are well underway, though the company has not announced any partnerships. Although there is no path to regulatory approval for cultured seafood yet, Wildtype has been having conversations with the Food and Drug Administration since late 2019.
The company said in its Medium post that it is excited about the possibilities the pilot plant brings.
"Building demonstration-scale facilities like this proves that we can grow the highest quality seafood anywhere in the world: urban or rural, temperate or tropical," the company wrote. "We have already shown that we can build a pilot facility right in the heart of San Francisco that can satisfy most, if not all, of the salmon sushi sold in the city. If we can do it with one facility on a microbrewery footprint, we believe we can reproduce this model all over the country, and indeed around the world."
Future Meat's high-capacity plant comes online
Wildtype's plant news comes a day after a similar announcement from Future Meat Technologies. Although it is based in Israel, Future Meat has been one of the leading companies in the race to bring cultured meat to the United States. Its industrial-scale pilot plant in Rehovot, Israel, can produce 500 kilograms of cultured meat a day, which is the equivalent of 5,000 hamburgers.
From this plant, Future Meat will start working on products to commercialize worldwide, CEO Rom Kshuk told Food Dive in an email. The company wants to eventually build a large plant in the U.S., but it has not announced official plans.
Future Meat aims to have products on the U.S. market in 2022, the company said. Having a running plant is needed for regulatory approval of production processes, as well as to produce a sizable amount of product. Founder and Chief Science Officer Yaakov Nahmias previously told Food Dive that Future Meat had been working closely with the FDA, helping the agency understand the space and sharing information about its technology that could pave the way for faster regulatory approval.
The company has been working on improving its technology, with some big breakthroughs in 2021. In February, Future Meat announced it got the cost for a cell-based chicken breast down to about $7.50 — a steep drop from the $325,000 cost of the first cell-based hamburger made by Mosa Meat in 2013. Future Meat has been able to get the price down both through its highly efficient bioreactors and cells, as well as creating a plant-based growth medium for the cells. The company can reinvigorate and reuse its growth medium, further driving down cost.
Future Meat also raised $26.75 million this year, announced at the same time as the lower production cost. This funding helped pave the way for the completion of its plant, Kshuk said in an email.
"After demonstrating that cultured meat can reach cost parity faster than the market anticipated, this production facility is the real game-changer," Nahmias said in a written statement. "This facility demonstrates our proprietary media rejuvenation technology in scale, allowing us to reach production densities 10-times higher than the industrial standard. Our goal is to make cultured meat affordable for everyone, while ensuring we produce delicious food that is both healthy and sustainable, helping to secure the future of coming generations."