JBS will become the majority shareholder in BioTech Foods. The acquisition marks JBS’s entry into the cultivated protein space and comes as the company, the world’s largest protein group, diversifies its portfolio to include emergent areas such as plant-based products.
Production, scale and route-to-market
Founded in 2017, BioTech Foods currently operates a pilot facility in San Sebastián. Plans are now in motion to develop a large-scale production facility, Eduardo Noronha, Global Head of HR and Operational Excellence at JBS, told FoodNavigator.
“BioTech operates a pilot plant in the city of San Sebastián, which produces 1 ton per year of cultivated protein, and expects to reach commercial production in mid-2024 with the building of a production plant funded as part of the investment deal, producing 1,000 tons per year. The investment in the new facilities is estimated at US$ 41 million,” Noronha explained.
The agreement will enable JBS and BioTech to ‘pool their strengths’ and ‘accelerate the development of the cultivated protein market’. To support rapid scale-up, JBS will offer additional support to the Spanish cultured meat innovator. “JBS will also provide the industrial processing capacity, marketing structure and sales channels to bring the new product to market,” we were told. JBS, meanwhile, will gain access to BioTech Foods technology and protein production capability.
When commercial operations begin, the cultivated protein will reach consumers in the form of prepared foods, such as hamburgers, steaks, sausage meats, and meatballs. “BioTech’ business model has been built on the concept of commercializing its production to the B2B segment, supplying cultivated protein for industries to produce processed foods, like hamburgers, meatballs and sausages,” Noronha explained.
JBS stressed that the process delivers an end-product with the ‘same’ quality, safety, taste and texture as traditional protein. The technology has the potential to replicate beef, chicken, pork and fish protein.
“This acquisition strengthens our strategy of innovation, from how we develop new products to how we commercialize them, to address the growing global demand for food. Combining technological know-how with our production capacity, we will be in a position to accelerate the development of the cultivated protein market,” suggested Gilberto Tomazoni, Global CEO of JBS.
Investing in R&D
JBS signalled its confidence in cultured meat technologies, which grow meat from animal cells in bioreactors, by also announcing the establishment of Brazil’s first cultivated meat research and development centre. In total, the company is channelling US$100m into the two projects. Due to be inaugurated in 2022, the second phase of the R&D centre will include a plant occupying an area of 10 thousand square meters. The initiative will have around 25 researchers and will work on the development of ‘leading-edge technologies’, JBS revealed.
The R&D drive will be headed up by Luismar Marques Porto and Fernanda Vieira Berti, both Ph.D. in chemical engineering. Porto was a visiting scientist at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Meanwhile, Berti has been at the Research Institute I3Bs and created a start-up incubated in Silicon Valley which operates in Europe developing products based on regenerative and T-cell medicine for treating animals.
Through the investment in the R&D centre, JBS intends to develop new techniques that accelerate the economies of scale and reduce the costs of producing cultivated protein, bringing forward its commercialization on the market.
“We are expanding our global platform to address the new trends in consumption and the growth of the global population. The acquisition of BioTech Foods and the new research centre put JBS in a unique position to push ahead in the cultivated protein sector,” claimed Tomazoni.
JBS is a global leader in the beef, pork and chicken markets. In 2021 the group acquired Vivera, Europe’s largest independent plant-based company, and it has just completed the acquisition of Australian salmon producer Huon. “Cultivated protein has arrived to supplement this portfolio,” the company said.