Right now in a lab in Berkeley, California, something incredible is happening.
Bathed in a nutrient-rich solution, cultured cells are dividing and dividing again, slowly turning into fully-fledged meat, while the animal they were harvested from lives on hundreds of miles away, blissfully unaware. Berkeley is the home of Memphis Meats, the world’s first start-up to grow meat in a lab using tiny samples of animal muscle, fat, and connective tissues, and they’re poised to change how the world eats.
Since its launch in 2015, Memphis Meats has already cultured beef, poultry, and seafood products, and attracted massive investment from the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson. The billionaires are betting that, no matter how hard scientists try (at least for a fair while), plant-based replacements won’t be able to recreate the taste of meat without, well, meat. And maybe they’re right. After all, it’s notoriously difficult to do – but these days meat-replacement products are already getting pretty damn close.
Wander into any supermarket in the UK, US, Australia or New Zealand, and you’re likely to find a selection of meat alternatives that are nothing like veggie-burgers of old. Made with futuristic ingredients like “heme”, these plant-based products look, smell and taste almost just like the real thing. Considering the agricultural industry is the world’s second biggest polluter – and that a recent review by the UN projected a 76% increase in global meat consumption by mid-century – that’s a very, very good thing.
So whether it’s lab grown meat or plant-based alternatives, let’s take a look at some of the other companies racing to disrupt the global meat industry.
The Alternative Meat Co.
As a sub-brand of Life Health Foods, an Aussie-based global business with operations in the UK, New Zealand and India, The Alternative Meat Co is Australia’s leading entrant to the meatless meat scene. At their headquarters in Berkeley Vale on the NSW Central Coast, The Alternative Meat Co is churning out amazingly realistic mince, sausages and burger patties, while their sister company, The Alternative Dairy Co, is pumping out delicious non-dairy products including three different types of cheese.
Made from soy, wheat and pea protein – along with various stocks and starches – The Alternative Meat Co’s products are so close to tasting like real meat you could easily trick most unsuspecting carnivores at your next BBQ. And maybe you should try, considering that, according to the Alternative Meat Co’s website, you can save 2,500 litres of water just by opting out of just one beef burger.
Cooked up in 2011 by Stanford University biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown, Impossible Foods is on a mission to “Save meat. And the earth”. Thanks to a partnership with Burger King, the company’s flagship product, the Impossible Burger, can be found all across the mainland United States, as well as in Alaska and Hawaii, with rumours it will soon be available in the UK.
In January this year, the company launched the Impossible Burger 2.0, that is “tastier, juicier and more nutritious”, and has 30% less sodium and 40% less saturated fat than the previous recipe, making it even healthier. Having raised over US$750 million and secured funding from celebrity investors like Jay-Z, Katy Perry, and Serena Williams, it seems that, for Impossible Burgers, nothing is impossible.
Since going public in early May, Beyond Meat has performed beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, with their stock racing nearly 600% to a market cap above USD$10 billion. That makes Beyond Meat now worth more than eighty S&P 500 companies, including Macy’s and Xerox.
Also plant-based, Beyond Meat’s line-up includes faux-beef patties, faux-ground-beef, faux beef sausages and frozen faux-beef “crumbles” (AKA mince). Unlike the Impossible Burger and patties from The Alternative Meat Co., though, the Beyond Burger is free from soy – rather it’s made from pea, rice and mung bean proteins. In our opinion, that’s particularly promising, as it shows that, when it comes to meat-free meat, there’s many ways to skin a carrot.
Since it’s already available at Grill’d in Australia, we tried a Beyond Burger the other day and found it delicious, satisfying and convincing.
Like Memphis Meats, Finless Foods is built around lab-grown meat, not a plant-based substitute. But, as the name suggests, Finless Foods is sole-ly (see what we did there?) focused on seafood – and, according to the company’s promotional material, is well on the way to scaling their tech to bring their products to market. With up to 90% of the world’s fisheries overexploited, we can’t wait to see what’s coming down the line.
Finless Foods is starting with bluefin tuna, and plans to extend into prawns, squid, gummy shark – you name it – once they’ve mastered the technology. In a recent interview with The Fish Site, Finless Foods CEO Mike Selden explained that, for them, “It’s the same cost to make tilapia as it is to make bluefin tuna, so we might as well start at the top and go down from there.”
That’s an exciting thought – that in the not-so-distant future we could all be eating ethically-made, sustainable, delicious, high-quality meat that costs the same (or less) than traditional meat. And in the meantime, there’s plenty of meat-like plant-based goodness already available. Bon appétit!