In June the US Department of Agriculture granted two companies final approval for the sale of cultured chicken meat. This makes the US the second country after Singapore in which meat from cell cultures can be sold. Companies on all five continents are researching cultured meat. According to market research, last year the focus was on beef and mutton, followed by poultry and pork. Fish and seafood are another area of interest.
Alternative proteins remain on a growth course. Alongside plant-based alternatives and proteins made through fermentation, the focus is increasingly on cultured meat, also known as in-vitro meat. The main drivers are the challenge of feeding a growing world population, climate and environmental protection, and animal welfare. “Both new vegan meat substitutes and cultured meat have disruptive potential,” notes Katharina Schäfer, Team Lead Product Management at Hydrosol. For her dissertation, she is studying the opportunities for meat from cultured cells as well as the challenges this new protein generation must overcome. “Right now consumer acceptance is the biggest hurdle,” says Schäfer. “Studies show differences in consumers’ willingness to try cultured meat. While in Brazil and Switzerland about three-quarters of people would be willing to try meat from cell cultures, in Germany and India the number is not as high but still over half. In the US and Great Britain, on the other hand, it is only about 40 percent. What’s more, willingness to try something can only be considered the lowest level of acceptance. Making a purchase is the next highest, and the highest is consuming something regularly and thus replacing a familiar product with it.”
Essential factors that influence the acceptance of cultured meat include public awareness and knowledge, ethical and ecological concerns, and emotional and personal factors. Product characteristics likewise play a role, as does – not least – the availability of alternatives. That being said, cultured meat has numerous advantages, including from the nutritional point of view. “The composition of cultured products can be adjusted flexibility,” explains Katharina Schäfer. “For example, it might be possible to configure the production of cultured fat in such a way that it contains omega-3 fatty acids, for a healthier product,” explains Schäfer.
Hydrosol helps companies with product development. “Our years of experience with conventional meat products enable us to offer various services,” adds Schäfer. “The most important is improving the functional properties of products with cultured meat.” Getting the texture, fibrousness, frying behaviour, and mouthfeel close to conventional meat products is not a problem. “For cost reasons, most companies will start by taking hybrid products to market, i.e. combinations of cultured and plant-based proteins.”
Hydrosol has long experience in the use of plant proteins, which led to the founding of Planteneers three years ago. In the Group’s Stern Technology Center, depending on the respective customer requirement and cultured product base, Hydrosol develops stabilizing and texturing systems for a wide variety of products. Another plus point is synergies with the other companies in the Stern-Wywiol Gruppe. For example, the nutritional profile of cultured meat products can be improved in collaboration with sister company SternVitamin.
An exciting future
The cultured meat field has developed rapidly since the presentation of the first cell-cultured burger ten years ago. Manufacturing costs have dropped substantially, and new industrial plants enable large-scale production. The first regulatory approvals are documenting the breakthrough of this new market segment, and step-by-step market launches of cultured meat products can be expected in the coming years. According to Katharina Schäfer, “there are initial small-scale sales in high-price restaurants in Singapore and the US. In addition to those markets, Switzerland and the United Kingdom could smooth the way for cultured meat in Europe. The first applications for approval were submitted to regulatory agencies there in recent weeks. Cultured meat will probably become a mass market product between 2028 and 2030.”
Optimistic prognoses see cultured meat becoming a big player by 2040. Experts predict that with a sales share of 35 percent, it will almost catch up to conventional meat at 40 percent, while the remaining quarter comprises vegan meat alternatives. “Acceptance of this disruptive innovation will be critical to achieving this kind of market success,” emphasizes Schäfer. “There are various factors that can favour future sales growth. The most important ones are government and regulatory measures, investment, and innovations that make scaled production of more varied products possible. Educating consumers to a greater degree is another important step. Cultured meat is probably not going to be the meat of the future, but it will definitely be a meat of the future.”