After hybrid vehicles, is hybrid meat the new trend?

Many startups in 2022 are focused on developing and commercializing alternatives to conventional meat, seafood, and dairy.

Plant-based foods that mimic real meat in texture, appearance, and feel and farm-raised “lab-grown” meat formed from animal cells in a test tube are the two main categories in the meat substitutes space. Although they all essentially work to solve the same problem, that of saving the world by weaning humans off animal protein, they each have their pros and cons.

Meat (1) hopes to accelerate the delivery of lab-grown meat to consumers using plant-based proteins.

Plant-based meat substitutes are already on sale in many parts of the world, while lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, with only Singapore allowing its sale. Singapore in Asia has become a focal point for the growing synthetic meat industry; just this week, Vow, an Australian company, announced a $49.2 million fundraising to bring its cultured meat product into Singaporean restaurants by the end of the year.

Meatable, a venture capital-backed Dutch company that has just launched its first line of synthetic sausage products, has just partnered with Love Handle (2), a Singapore-based culinary startup, to establish what it calls “the world’s first hybrid meat innovation center”. “

This follows Meatable’s entry into the Singapore market. The company has partnered with Esco Aster to produce cultured pork products and plans to invest some $60 million over the next five years. (3)

These two companies are teaming up to combine the benefits of cultured meat and plant-based protein sources.

What Meatable & Love Handle is aiming for isn’t entirely original; others have pursued this goal, and comparable efforts are being made around the world to reduce the use of animals in food production by creating hybrid products that combine real meat with plant-based substitutes. (4) The concept is that a burger with less beef is better for the environment (and for people’s health), even though it still contains real meat.

But why would a company like Meatable, which builds its entire business model on the premise of its “fake real meat,” do what it does? Simply put, speed to market and cost reduction are the two most important factors.

Critics say there is little evidence to suggest the cost of developing lab-grown meat will ever be low enough to allow major commercialization.

Even in Singapore, where it is legal to consume, there are significant legislative restrictions. There’s also the psychological hurdle of getting used to eating lab-grown meat.

Therefore, if we could combine cultured and plant-based meat substitutes, we could eliminate most of the obstacles that currently stand in the way.

Meatable’s commercial director, Caroline Wilschut, described the company’s decision to start with hybrid products in Singapore so shoppers can get to grips with cultured meat faster.

“We recognize the need for additional education about the consumption of cultured meat, including what it is, how it is grown and how it can be produced without harming animals, the environment or people. Earlier we get started, the sooner we can start educating people and making an impact with our safe beef.

Lessons learned from electric vehicles

It’s important to remember that Meatable doesn’t put all of its eggs in the hybrid model’s basket; the company still invests heavily in the lab to market 100% lab-grown meat. By opening its new innovation center in Singapore, the company “is seizing an additional opportunity within a favorable regulatory environment”, as Wilschut puts it.

While “Meatable” is still working on fully cultured meat development, “we’ve also found that hybrid products can launch earlier than fully cultured meat,” she explained. Meatable is confident that a hybrid offering will help it expand its consumer base in Singapore.

The goal here is similar to that of a hybrid electric car in that it accelerates the widespread adoption of emerging technologies. Meatable claims to be flipping the concept of hybrids, but it’s not the only company experimenting with the idea of ​​including produced meat in an otherwise plant-based product.

According to Wilschut, “In this case, Meatable and Love Handle are taking a cultured meat approach,” meaning they start with Meatable’s cultured meat and then add Love Handle’s plant-based protein to create a hybrid product that , when tested, is indistinguishable from real meat in taste and texture.

This goes to the heart of why hybrid products may be preferable. Combining two distinct types of animal-free meat substitutes could help evolve for everyone involved; it’s a win-win for Meatable and Love Handle. Typically, purely plant-based meat substitutes lack the taste and texture of real meat.

This brings us back to the heart of today’s report. What functions will the Singapore-based innovation hub serve? Wilschut estimates that by 2023 the lab will be fully operational, with the two companies jointly investing in a team of ten researchers.

It will have a commercial facade, with space for people to try and buy items directly, as well as a production kitchen and laboratory with all the equipment and materials needed to bring hybrid kitchen products to market.

With Wilschut’s help, “both organizations will commit to the lab, operate the innovation hub, and jointly hire the resources and talent to run it,” he explained.

Meatballs, pulled pork, pork belly, meatballs, deli meats and patties are just a few of the new hybrid products that Meatable and Love Handle hope to bring to market starting in 2024.

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