Is Cell-Based Meat the Future of the Industry?

Meat alternatives are nowhere near a new concept. Grocery stores are full of plant-based products, and there are literally hundreds of thousands of recipes on how to create alternative meats out of vegetables. But there’s a new trend revving to enter the market. One that isn’t necessarily an alternative to meat, but rather a new way to manufacture it. Enter cell-based meat.

Now you may be asking yourself, “What in the world is cell-based meat?” Well, quite literally, it’s the same thing as what we’re used to – just manufactured in a new way. Recently, on our podcast, Just a Taste, we spoke with Megan Poinski of Food Dive about this emerging trend. She explained to us that cell-based meat is no different than traditional meat. What happens is that a cell sample is taken from an animal, and then is grown through fermentation (similar to how beer is made) in order to produce meat that is biologically the same as farm-raised meat.

Although these products are years away from hitting stores, they are already stirring up quite a bit of controversy.

Throw a label on it

Almost anytime a new food alternative hits the shelves there’s legislative push-back that attempts to limit what labels they can (and cannot) use. Just look at the plant-based dairy market. Since the boom of alternative milk products about 10 years ago many states have seen bills that are calling for these products to be unable to label themselves as “milk”. Because at the end of the day, even though consumers typically refer to almond/oat/cashew/etc. products as “milk”, they cannot actually be “milk” by definition. Although it could be assumed that consumers know the difference, many legislators have argued that labeling the alternative products “milk” is deceiving.

Cell-based meats are facing the same issue. In an article on Food Dive, Megan Poinski describes the legal conundrum the market is facing as states are considering bills that would prohibit companies from labeling cell-based meat as “meat”. In 2019, 17 laws in 14 states were passed that discussed what could and could not be labeled “meat”. Of course, many of these laws were directed at plant-based products (such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods), but according to Poinski they also targeted cell-based products.

Is the world ready?

By far one of the biggest battles this new market has yet to face is changing consumer perception of their products. In a society where we are already very wary of GMOs and over-processed foods, cell-based meats will inevitably be a hard sell. Many brands have already realized that educating customers will be vital when launching their products. Not only will they have to explain what exactly their products are, but also the potential global benefits they have. Memphis Meats, a leader in the market, states on their website, “We aim to make meat better for the planet and all its inhabitants, while using significantly less land and water. At scale, our process will create less waste while dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

As plant-based/flexitarian diets grow in popularity, many consumers are increasingly aware of the negative impact the meat industry has had on the environment (see our blog The Rise of the Sustainable Consumers for more information) – and these new brands know that this is their way in. Focusing on sustainability, companies like Memphis Meats can appeal to like-minded individuals by emphasizing how their products could lessen the meat industry’s impact on the environment. Now it may never be feasible to assume that the industry as a whole could shift to cell-based manufacturing, but is interesting to see innovative companies push the boundaries of sustainability with the food & beverage industry.

To learn more about cell-based meat listen to our podcast Just a Taste with Megan Poinski of Food Dive.