Ajinomoto-SuperMeat tie-up addresses cell growth media bottleneck: ‘For the first time, cultivated meat is backed by a commercially viable supply chain’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

SuperMeat is preparing to take its cultivated chicken product to market, and a new partnership with Ajinomoto will help it get there. GettyImages/GMVozd
SuperMeat is preparing to take its cultivated chicken product to market, and a new partnership with Ajinomoto will help it get there. GettyImages/GMVozd

Related tags cultivated meat Ajinomoto

Cultivated meat start-up SuperMeat has partnered with Japanese food giant Ajinomoto to leverage the latter’s expertise in biotechnology and fermentation. Ajinomoto is well positioned to provide global supply chain solutions to cell feed ingredients, SuperMeat CEO Ido Savir tells FoodNavigator.

The cultivated meat market is expected to grow exponentially over the coming years. By 2030, it could provide as much as half of 1% of the world’s meat supply.

At that time – less than 10 years from now – McKinsey estimates the global cultivated meat industry to be worth $25bn.

However, between cultivated meat development and market success, major barriers remain. Amongst these include regulation, consumer acceptance, and cost.

In a newly announced partnership agreement, two industry players are working to address this last point, to ultimately produce competitively priced cultivated meat products.

Ajinomoto ‘well positioned’ to supply growth media ingredients

According to the agreement, Israeli food tech company SuperMeat will lean on Japanese food giant Ajinomoto’s expertise in biotechnology and fermentation to help establish a commercially viable supply chain platform for its cultivated chicken product.

Ajinomoto will invest in SuperMeat as one of its corporate capital projects. While financial details were not disclosed, the funds raised will support commercialisation and cost reduction efforts, as well as the launch of a new industrial facility in the US.

As suggested, one of the focus areas of the partnership is the development of cell growth media and its ingredients applicable to cultivated meat.

To meet the predicted demand for cultivated meat, while becoming cost competitive with its conventional counterpart, improvements are required in the supply of growth factors. These include the reduction of inefficiencies between supply and demand for growth factors and the introduction of food-grade growth factors, SuperMeat explained.

“Cell feed (AKA media) is the major cost driver for cultivated meat production, accounting for 60-80% of the marginal cost of the product, similar to animal feed in traditional meat production,” ​explained SuperMeat CEO Ido Savir.

As a ‘global leader’ in biotechnology and food ingredients, Ajinomoto is well positioned to provide global supply chain solutions for cell feed ingredients, he continued.

“This joint effort will provide the cultivated meat industry for the first time with media and related ingredients supported by a commercially viable supply chain that have been validated and tested on a commercially ready cultivated meat production platform, helping to remove one of the main barriers and bottlenecks of the industry’s path towards commercialisation and cost parity.”

Commercialisation plans

SuperMeat intends to launch its first products in the US market next year, pending regulatory approval.

However, the start-up is also eyeing other geographies, we were told. “SuperMeat plans to operate in other sites that provide a supportive regulatory environment, and as a B2B player, is in discussions with various entities that are interested in launching regional manufacturing ventures.”

While regulatory barriers are likely to be higher in Europe than in other geographies, Savir confirmed the start-up would be keen to tap into that market – which he described as a ‘strategic region’ for SuperMeat.

“Consumer acceptance in Europe is forecasted to be high, as shown in many surveys conducted in recent years,” ​he told this publication.

Obtaining regulatory approval in the EU, however, is expected to take longer than other regions due to the ‘stringency’ of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Savir continued.  

“SuperMeat serves as a board member and chair of the regulatory committee of Cellular Agriculture Europe, an organisation that aims to help Europe meet its growing demand for protein by supporting the introduction of sustainable novel production processes for meat, poultry and seafood products.

“The organisation has just been accepted as a registered stakeholder by EFSA, a very positive development since EFSA evaluates the applications.”

‘Japan represents an interesting opportunity’

While the start-up hopes to supply its products to regions ‘wherever regulatory approval is granted’, CEO Savir suggested Asia was a region of interest.

“Due to Asia’s large population, it faces the greatest threat in the face of food insecurity and its associated social, economic, and environmental challenges,” ​he told FoodNavigator.

“As a result of resource consumption, population growth and climate change, the region is in urgent need of innovative mass protein production methods that can address these issues.”

Local governments in Asia recognise these challenges, he continued, and are ‘rather open’ and ‘friendly’ toward cultivated animal protein technologies and products.

Indeed, first positive indications were provided by Singapore in 2020 through initial regulatory approval, and another recent positive development in the region came from China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, which in its five-year agricultural plan for food security, included cultivated meat and other ‘future foods’ for the first time.

Ajinomoto’s native Japan represents an ‘interesting opportunity’ for the cultivated meat industry.

“It is heavily dependent on imports – since its food self-sufficiency rate is 37% - and about 40% of the 3m tonnes of poultry consumed each year is imported.

“The technology of meat cultivation allows for local meat production on any land and in any climate, making local meat production a privilege any country can enjoy to an extent.”

While there is no regulatory framework in Japan just yet, Savir said discussions are underway and local governments see an increase in food security as ‘crucial’.

“Cultivated meat production reduces dependence on natural resources such as land and water and therefore can address the growing concerns over food security.”

SuperMeat blind tasting

Earlier this year, SuperMeat conducted what it described as the ‘first ever’ public blind tasting comparing cultivated chicken with its conventional counterpart.

Three high-profile culinary exerts and media personalities were invited to the start-up’s Tel Aviv restaurant, The Chicken – located at the site of SuperMeat’s production plant.

Opinions were split: two of the judges incorrectly identified which was the cultivated chicken, and the third couldn’t pick which was which.

One responded that SuperMeat’s product was ‘saltier’, and another said it was ‘richer’ than the traditional chicken product.

To view a video of the blind tasting, click here​.

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