As cell-based meat nears the consumer market, a pioneer in the space is spotlighting the positive aspects of its coming products.
Memphis Meats, the first company founded to create meat through animal cells, has changed its name to Upside Foods. With the name change comes a complete pivot in the company's messaging. Upside Foods is a more consumer-focused name, which Director of Brand and Creative Maria Occarina Macedo said speaks to the essence of who the company is and the impact it wants to make. She said the company's goal is to show consumers that Upside Foods is turning food into a force for good.
"I really think about meat today as a food that has a lot of issues that need to be addressed," Macedo said. "When it comes to what we're doing, we're basically making meat with only upside. There's no downside to what we're doing. There's an upside for the environment, for health, for the animals."
Along with its new name, Upside announced that its first product will be cell-based chicken. The company hopes to receive regulatory approval and have its product on the market by the end of this year — though the timing depends on the Food and Drug Administration and Department of Agriculture creating a regulatory approval regimen for cell-based meat and green lighting Upside's process and product. David Kay, Upside's director of communications, said Wednesday that there are no status updates on this process, but the company has previously said it's been working with federal regulators.
While Upside Foods has made cell-based chicken, duck and beef in its facilities, Kay said the company decided to start with chicken because it's the most popular meat in the United States. As Memphis Meats, the company was the first to make any cell-based poultry, and now there is a host of companies working on similar products worldwide. Chicken is also versatile, featuring in recipes and dishes in different cuisines, Kay said.
It's likely that Upside's chicken will first launch at a restaurant, Kay said, though there are no definitive rollout plans.
In order to produce its cell-based meat, Upside last year broke ground on a pilot plant in the San Francisco Bay Area. The company's $161 million investment round, which closed in January 2020, is funding the construction. Kay said the company expects the plant to be operational later this year.
While Upside Foods is one of the best funded in the cell-based meat space and already has high-profile investors — including Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Cargill and Tyson Foods — it revealed two more with the name change announcement. Whole Foods Market CEO John Mackey personally invested about $500,000 in the company last year, according to Bloomberg. Whole Foods as a corporation also invested. Mackey told Bloomberg that the grocer had not yet decided if it would eventually carry Upside products, but he hoped it would.
"I really think about meat today as a food that has a lot of issues that need to be addressed. When it comes to what we're doing, we're basically making meat with only upside. There's no downside to what we're doing. There's an upside for the environment, for health, for the animals."
Maria Occarina Macedo
Director of brand and creative, Upside Foods
"This has the potential to revolutionize the way people eat and is incredibly exciting," Mackey said in a press release. "The world 20 years from now may be completely different due to Upside Foods, which is why I've personally invested in the company."
While Upside's products are at least months away from making their commercial debut, the rebrand is happening now because the company wants to start building awareness and recognition among consumers. Memphis Meats — a nod to both the American meat and barbecue culture in Memphis, Tennessee, and the scientific innovation culture of the ancient Egyptian capitol of Memphis — has always been in front of the discussion of the cultured meat space, presenting prototypes for tasting since 2016. Kay said the company intends to continue sharing its progress.
As Upside Foods highlights the positives of cultured meat to consumers — who may otherwise find the segment to be complicated and overly scientific — its new name also rings true to its employees, who are working in the space because of its upsides, Kay said.
"There are some people who are who are here because they care about the environment, or animal welfare, or public health, or they're just really excited about food and new frontiers, and food and science," Kay said. "...That is really what gets us out of bed each morning, and I think the new name reflects that in a really compelling way."
Clarification: This article has been updated to note that Memphis Meats presented its first prototypes for tasting in 2016.