- Cultivated meat company Upside Foods announced it will be making an array of ground meat-style products from chicken cells, plant protein and seasoning ingredients. These products, which will likely include chicken sausages, dumplings and ground meat sandwiches, can be produced more quickly and inexpensively than the whole cut-style products the company is working on, Chief Operating Officer Amy Chen said.
- The company also developed a cell line that grows in a culture medium without platelet-derived growth factors. These substances are an expensive component of cell culture media, Chen said, costing between $20,000 and $30,000 per gram.
- Production costs and scalability of cultivated meat have always been challenges the nascent industry has faced. Companies have worked to design culture media that is more efficient and less expensive to address the cost issue, and they have spent time on product formulations and technology to improve scale.
Chen said in an interview that these developments work hand-in-hand to get Upside Foods closer to the place it wants cultivated meat to be.
“The vision of the company and the impact that we want to have requires us to be able to produce all formats of meat: different species, and it tastes amazing, and then it also meets the value expectations that consumers have,” Chen said.
The ground chicken product can be produced at a substantially lower price point and greater scale than the animal-derived meat, Chen said. Basically, she said, when Upside Foods makes a whole cut piece of chicken, it starts out growing cells on their own. Then those cells undergo a different growth method so they come together as one piece of meat, which she called adherence.
For ground chicken, the cells are harvested before the adherence process, Chen said. They are blended with seasonings and plant-based proteins to bulk them up and provide flavor. The specific ingredients and the proportions vary depending on the application, she added.
Because the cells for the ground chicken product don’t have to develop as long in bioreactors, Chen said Upside will be able to make more of it faster, which in turn would create a less expensive product. It takes seven to 14 days to grow the cells by themselves, and then another week for the adherence process.
The new cell lines that were developed also can reduce the cost of finished products. Upside’s scientists have long been looking to improve cell culture media, Chen said, to lower the cost, improve the supply chain and make the process more efficient. Platelet-derived growth factors are the most expensive single component in the media, so the scientists tried to develop a cell line that didn’t need them.
Some cells already grow without platelet-derived growth factors, Chen said, so the science team worked to see if they could just preserve the cells that didn’t need it to create a distinct line. They were successful, she said, so the company could grow future cells in a less expensive and still effective culture medium.
While Upside has announced the ground product and the new cell line, neither of them are coming to plates in the near future.
Upside is currently working toward federal government approval for its whole-cut chicken product, which is almost completely made of chicken cells. The company received a no questions letter from FDA about that product’s safety in November 2022. Chen said the USDA is currently working with Upside on its portion of regulatory approval, dealing with facilities, processes and labeling.
Both the ground product and the new cell line will need their own approvals from the FDA, Chen said. The company is hopeful the ground product can get through the process quickly because it’s essentially an early harvest of the whole-cut product cells. Upside is initially planning to first focus all of its products on the restaurant sector.