- Dutch cell-based meat company Meatable entered a joint development agreement with ingredients company Royal DSM to create lower-cost growth media. This substance provides nourishment for the growing cells, containing nutrients including carbohydrates, proteins, salts and vitamins. It can account for 50% to 90% of the production cost of cultured meat, the companies said in a written statement.
- As part of the agreement, DSM and Meatable will also work together to develop a meat-like taste and texture for final cell-based meat products. The companies said this is an important area to work on because those two factors influence consumers' purchase decisions.
- While this agreement was just announced, it's likely been in the works for months. DSM Venturing, which is the VC arm of Royal DSM, participated in Meatable's $47 million Series A funding round, which closed in March. Meatable started out creating cell-based pork chops and announced in March it was adding beef to its portfolio — but the company says its technology is easily adaptable to any kind of meat or seafood.
One of the more pressing and pervasive problems to solve in the early stages of developing cultured meat is the growth medium. It's why the first cell-based meat — a hamburger grown by Mark Post in 2013 — cost $325,000. And it's also why some have called cell-based meat "gruesome."
In the earliest days of cell-based meat, cells were grown in a medium made largely of fetal bovine serum, a substance taken from the blood of unborn calves. The serum is not only expensive, but many thought it was unethical, given that one foundational principle of cell-based meat is that it's made without harming any animals.
In recent years, use of fetal bovine serum has largely curtailed, with scientists and investors focused on finding alternatives. DSM, which is a major player in food ingredients — as well as animal and human health products — is a natural player to get involved in this sort of space.
"Our commitment goes way beyond investing in Meatable through DSM Venturing," Wim Klop, vice president of DSM Biotechnology Center, said in an emailed statement. "With this joint development agreement DSM will contribute its unique competencies in biotechnology, such as fermentation, analysis and production scale-up to help make the science of cultivated meat a reality.”
Several companies in the cell-based space have been innovating their formulas, though the vast majority don't yet have products on the market anywhere in the world. Israel's Future Meat Technologies has developed a plant-based and reusable growth medium, which its leaders say was supported by the company's partnership with its funder Archer Daniels Midland. Future Meat says this development has helped it bring prices to $7.50 for a cell-based chicken breast — within striking distance of price parity with animal-based chicken.
Animal nutrition company Nutreco entered the cell-based meat space last year with funding and partnerships to work on its cell growth medium. In the space of a week, Nutreco announced it was working with the Netherlands' Mosa Meat and California-based BlueNalu. The arm of Mitsubishi that deals with feedstocks also is working with Mosa Meat on growth media.
DSM can have an important role to play in making the finished cultured meat products look and taste like meat from animals. This is a challenge that plant-based and fermented meat and dairy alternatives have worked hard to overcome. Since the components of cell-based meat will be exactly the same as those in meat from animals, the problem may be less about the taste and aroma and more about the mouthfeel and appearance. An experienced ingredient company that works in the alternative protein space like DSM likely has the knowhow to turn a bunch of cells into an appetizing pork or beef product.