Avant Meat’s products will be produced sustainably using cell technology and will be available at similar price to traditional fish and seafood products. As a food ingredient production company, it will produce cell-based fish parts such as fish meat or fish maw, and its branded ingredients can find applications in a number of consumer food products.
Vegconomist spoke with CEO and founder, Carrie Chan.
What was the motivation behind your launch?
I realised that it is unrealistic to expect most people to give up animal protein quickly enough to offset the adverse environmental implications we are already facing. As we operate in China and Hong Kong, we are concerned that China tops the list for meat consumption. In particular, the annual per capita fish and seafood consumption of China is double the global average. According to Euromonitor, the China seafood market is projected to reach USD 80 Billion in 2021.
Unlike terrestrial farm animals, half of the fish and seafood are from wild catch. Many marine ecosystems have been exploited and many commercially valued species have been endangered and even become extinct due to overfishing. The rise of fish farming partially addresses the increasing demand. However, it is basically the aquatic version of the same horror story on land where a large number of animals are crowded in a limited space. Disease, parasites, antibiotic abuse, pollution by chemicals, heavy metals and plastic micro particles are common aquaculture themes. According to fishcount.org.uk, it has been estimated that the number of individual aquatic creatures killed every year reaches 1 trillion. This is not good for anyone: neither for the aquatic creatures nor humans who consume them.
What vegan fish / seafood products are you planning to launch and when will they be available?
Our target consumers are fish and seafood eaters. We appeal to them to switch to our products which are produced in a more sustainable way. As our products contain cells from animals, it does not fit the definition of vegan. The UK’s Vegan Society though has said, “We recognise the potential that lab-grown meat can have in reducing animal suffering and the environmental impact of animal agriculture.”
Our initial offerings will be cell-based fish maw products. Pipeline direction will focus on fish meat and other Chinese aquatic delicacies. We are currently in R&D stage and target to reach commercialisation in 2023/2024.
What is your USP and how do you stand out against any competitors?
Compared to fish and seafood from traditional sources, our products are free from marine pollutants, e.g. heavy metal and plastic micro particles, and free from antibiotics, disease and parasites. Our products are also fully traceable and are produced in a much more sustainable way.
In addition, food is closely knitted with local culture. Our products are tailored for the food culture, preferences and behaviours of consumers in China and in the region.
In which markets will your products be available?
Avant Meats is the first cell-based animal protein company in Hong Kong and the Greater Bay Area of China. Hong Kong and Guangdong province are prospective good locations to launch. Some countries in southeast Asia with similar fish and seafood culture, such as Singapore and Malaysia, are also good potential markets. Actual launch location will be subject to a number of factors, including statutory compliance etc.
In your opinion, why should the seafood industry continue to acknowledge veganism?
Traditional seafood industry faces increasing challenges. New questions and doubts from consumers on seafood safety arise as our oceans become more polluted by an increasing variety of pollutants. For open sea fishing, return on investment to improve fishing equipment and productivity is diminishing due to dwindling natural fish stocks. Aquacultural practices have multiple problems as concentrated animal operations.
Veganism is against the exploitation of and cruelty to animals for food. Using animals as protein delivery method is hugely inefficient. It is now becoming obvious that it is a system issue. Therefore, systemic change is a necessity and not a preference.
Despite the numbers of vegans increasing, population explosion and rising middle class in emerging economies mean consumption of animal derived foods increases every day. The China seafood market alone is growing at a CAGR of 9% between 2016 and 2021. Global meat consumption is projected to double by 2050. Large numbers of people are resistant to reducing and / or eliminating animal products from their diet. Some even intentionally avoid products considered “vegan”. Our products are a pragmatic way for such people to reduce harm to animals and the environment.
Tell us more about your advanced cell technology
Cell-based meat production calls for the convergence of existing technologies developed in the medical field, including cell technology and tissue engineering. First, we build a cell line, i.e. a healthy population of self-generating cells. It is initially procured by collecting a small sample of swim bladder cells. After taking this initial starter cells, we provide an environment in vitro to allow the cells to grow and replicate. We do not need to take another cell sample after the cell line is established and continues to proliferate stably.
Second, we grow the cells under clean and controlled conditions. Here, we provide the cells with the necessary nutrients, such as amino-acids, vitamins, minerals, glucose, etc. A surface, which can be flat or spherical, is needed for the cells to grow on. This is called the scaffold. In this step, we need to ensure the conditions are suitable for the cells to grow, such as temperature, acidity / alkalinity etc.
Third, we harvest the product from the incubation environment and proceed with further product preparation and packaging.
Future commercial production will take place in purpose-built facilities that comply with relevant biotech and food manufacturing standards, such as GMP, HACCP and HARPC.
How will cell based fish and seafood influence the conventional fish market in the next ten years?
For the China seafood market, people will continue to learn from food scandals and grow in knowledge about what can go wrong in a food supply chain. Consumers will gain buying power by becoming more selective and voting with their money. As such, other than price, taste and food safety, traceability and sustainability will gradually move up the list of criteria for purchase decisions.
With the country’s emphasis on innovation, people are becoming more open minded to new technologies and solutions that have proved to be better and smarter than the old ones. Peer influence and social media will catalyse new technology adoption. As long as a product is good, it can reach the critical mass fast that drives the positive loop for a business. Traditional seafood procurement will face increasing production cost and softening market demand.