MeatTech, the Israeli developer of 3D-printed cell-cultured meat, was the first in its category to become public, having become listed on the Tel Aviv stock market last year and this March becoming the first lab-grown meat company listed on Wall Street, with a Nasdaq IPO.
We were pleased to speak with Business Development Executive Simon Fried to talk about what drives the company, the cell-cultured space, and the food production and agriculture of tomorrow.
Could you tell us a little about your personal background and your journey to MeaTech and the cell-cultured world?
The cultured meat sector fascinates me because of its potential to create real change. New food technologies can transform our relationship with nature while also changing how the business and logistical aspects of agriculture function. I spent many years as a consultant to large food brands and food retailers before working in high-tech.
During the many years working at Nano Dimension, a 3D printing company I co-founded, I came across 3D bioprinting. At the time, 3D bioprinting was limited to drug discovery and other more experimental applications. These different experiences coalesce at MeaTech. Creating the technologies for the meat factories of the future is an inspiring goal whose success would make a meaningful impact.
MeaTech recently hit the headlines with news of its $25 million IPO in the US and NASDAQ approval, can you reveal the latest developments in this process?
Even though MeaTech was already listed on the Tel Aviv stock exchange, listing on the NASDAQ was no small endeavor. The whole company came together to ensure a rapid and smooth process. We are proud we completed the listing so quickly and raised a significant round. Over the course of the listing, our R&D team continued their work and today, we are still focusing on developing our bovine and avian cell technologies as well as on continuing development of our bioprinting systems.
Having been traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange for over a year now, MeaTech became the world’s very first public cell-cultured company. What did that mean to your business?
Being the first publicly traded cultured meat company has been instrumental to our strategy. MeaTech is dual-listed, where it has been publicly traded in Tel Aviv for over a year and recently joined the NASDAQ in the first quarter of 2021.
M&A activities, for example, are a more straightforward proposition. We’ve already made a synergistic acquisition, a cultured avian meat company in Belgium called ‘Peace of Meat’ that has already paid off in terms of advancing our development.
Beyond Meat’s publicly traded status helped bring the entire alternative protein sector to the forefront of public consciousness. We think cultured meat can benefit from the same attention and aspire to bring a similar level of awareness to our niche of the alternative protein sector.
With such an emerging industry, names and labels are yet to be formalised, though “cell-cultured” has been approved in the US by the FDA. How do you feel about the cell-cultured label? Is there any other nomenclature that you would prefer?
There is an old Swedish saying that ‘a dear child has many names’ and it is certainly the case with this industry.
The terminology evolution is interesting: in the early days, when cultured meat still hadn’t really made the leap from academic labs, in-vitro and lab-grown were the most common terms. While accurate, the terms are about as appetizing as calling yoghurt a bacterial fermentation. Over time, the industry adopted terms that would be more ‘palatable’ to the public, like cell-cultured, cultured, clean, cultivated, cell-based and animal-cell based. I think the latest labels are doing a better job of communicating to consumers, investors, and stakeholders. At MeaTech we tend to refer to the process as cell-based agriculture, and the end-product as cultured meat.
Terminology is changing due to marketing, business and political considerations. There are those arguing against labeling plant-based proteins as meat because they contend it is literally incorrect. I believe consumers can decipher such things on their own. Others believe cultured meat shouldn’t be called meat either, even though it is made of the very same ingredients as conventional beef!
MeaTech focuses on developing and out-licensing proprietary 3D printing technology to manufacture proteins, how did you arrive at this business model?
The company believes in the potential for cultured meat to have a dramatic impact on business models, products, consumer habits, and sustainability. Developing such technology requires a great deal of expertise across a range of disciplines and we believe that enabling the production of cultured meat by licensing the production technologies is a powerful way to accelerate widespread adoption.
MeaTech recently acquired Belgian cultured fat producer Peace of Meat. What was the drive behind this acquisition? Can we expect more acquisitions in the future?
MeaTech was initially focused on cultured beef, where our team in Israel is focusing on bovine cell line technologies. The company aspires to offer a range of cell types and is exploring routes to achieve this. Chicken is clearly a key market. Rather than developing the capabilities from the ground up, we searched for a company we felt had the best technologies, would be a good fit, and would complement our capabilities. Peace of Meat has a world-class scientific and business team as well as impressive cell-culturing technologies.
The MeaTech group is now working on multi-species solutions, and as announced, it is also exploring alternatives in the aquaculture space. Meanwhile Peace of Meat is focusing on scaling up production of cultured chicken fat as an ingredient in hybrid plant/cell-based products.
The myriad benefits of cell-cultured meat are well documented, do you believe this technology could dramatically change the world’s relationship to food production?
We go to work knowing what we are doing has the potential to drive real change. The impact on the environment and ethical considerations are indeed clear but it is also important to look at the additional societal and business advantages. Cultured meat may be safer and cleaner and may ensure as well as reshape supply chains. We believe cultured meat and other new food technologies, like precision fermentation, will ultimately change the relationship between food production and agriculture. Tomorrow’s agriculture will probably require much less land, have a much smaller environmental footprint, and ensure more local and flexible supply.