Last November, UPSIDE Foods made history when it became one of the first two cultivated meat companies to have a product greenlit by the FDA. Since then, the company has reached several more milestones, with its cultivated chicken receiving USDA label approval this June and gaining final regulatory approval to be sold in the US a week later.
UPSIDE’s first sale — believed to be the first ever for cultivated meat in the US — took place on July 1 at Chef Dominique Crenn’s acclaimed Bar Crenn restaurant. The initial event was for winners of a social media contest, but the cultivated chicken is now available to the public as part of a six-course meal at the restaurant.
Most recently, UPSIDE announced that it had hired Sean Edgett, former General Counsel at Twitter, as Chief Legal Officer. We caught up with COO Amy Chen, who says of the future, “Ultimately, we want UPSIDE’s products to be available everywhere meat is sold.”
Can you briefly describe the founding story of UPSIDE Foods?
UPSIDE Foods was founded as the world’s first cultivated meat company in 2015 by Dr. Uma Valeti. The idea of growing meat directly from animal cells came to Uma when he was training as a cardiologist at The Mayo Clinic in 2005. Later on in his practice, he was involved in a study that used stem cells to regrow muscle cells that had been damaged during heart attacks, and realized that the same approach could be used to grow animal muscle cells — aka meat.
The more he thought about it, the more he realized how transformative it would be if we could make meat at scale using this method. After all, raising and killing animals for food has taken a toll on our planet, public health, and on countless animal lives. Yet meat plays such an important role in almost every culture around the world. Asking people to give it up has never been a viable option — in fact, demand for meat is skyrocketing. He realized that we can’t ask the world to stop eating meat, but we can innovate to develop new ways of making meat.
Since 2015, UPSIDE has raised over $600 million and has achieved numerous industry-defining milestones, including being the first company to produce multiple species of meat (beef, chicken, and duck), to partner with the existing meat industry, and to sell cultivated meat in the United States.
How is your cultivated chicken made and what differentiates it from others?
Rather than raising a whole animal, we instead grow only the meat that we want to eat directly from animal cells. In the case of our cultivated chicken, the process starts by taking a cell sample from a chicken or a fertilized egg and extracting the cells that have the ability to grow into animal tissue or meat.
“UPSIDE has the unique ability to produce not only ground products but also full cuts”
From there, we put those cells into a cultivator. We then provide the cells with the nutrients they need to grow and multiply, such as amino acids, sugars, carbohydrates, vitamins, and more. In essence, we try to recreate the nutrients that cells would normally get inside a chicken’s body. Once the meat is ready, we harvest it from the cultivators and then cook or prepare it like you would any other meat product.
UPSIDE Foods stands out for being the world’s first cultivated meat company. Further, unlike most players in the cultivated meat industry, UPSIDE has the unique ability to produce not only ground products but also full cuts of meat.
Congratulations on receiving the final approval to sell your cultivated chicken to US consumers — can you give us an insight into the next steps for UPSIDE Foods?
We’re focusing on introducing our products to consumers for the first time and on scaling up production. It will take time to achieve the scale that we’re working towards, but we’re making progress towards this every day. We’re currently in the site selection and design process of a larger-scale commercial facility that will be capable of producing millions of pounds per year.
August 4 marked a historical event when, for the first time, members of the public were able to taste your cultivated chicken at the Bar Crenn restaurant — tell us more about this culinary experience and the feedback you have received so far.
Our first consumer seating at Bar Crenn was on July 1, when the winners of our social media contest joined Chef Crenn and UPSIDE’s CEO for the first consumer sale event. The August 4 event was the first ongoing seating open to the public, via reservation, at Bar Crenn.
Now, UPSIDE’s cultivated chicken is featured on Bar Crenn’s menu for monthly ongoing services. Reservations are released monthly on Bar Crenn’s website on the second Friday of the previous month, limited to a first come first served basis. The feedback from consumers has been positive. See the experience through the eyes of one of the consumers here, and below for a testimonial:
Erin Sharoni — “I tasted the future and it was delicious! It tasted just like what I remember chicken tasting like; the texture, mouth feel, weight, and flavor are extraordinary. I suppose it’s the most extraordinary ordinary thing I’ve ever eaten. The fact is that it’s chicken — made from chicken cells and grown in a much cleaner, safer environment — but without any of the harm. Now people can have their chicken and eat it, too!”
Given the growing interest and investment in cultivated companies, what is the potential of cultivated meat and seafood, and will the category keep up with the promise to feed the world?
The future for cultivated meat and its ability to help feed the world looks incredibly promising. The idea of growing meat from animal cells was simply an idea less than a decade ago, and now we’ve proven these products are safe, delicious, and something that consumers want and can purchase on the market.
“…cultivated meat is a tool in the toolkit to help meet the world’s growing demand for meat”
The way we see it, cultivated meat is a tool in the toolkit to help meet the world’s growing demand for meat. It will coexist with other methods of meat production. Given the pressures facing our food system — skyrocketing demand for meat in the face of significant limits on our availability of natural resources — we need to use every tool available.
At UPSIDE Foods, we envision a pluralistic future, where conventional meat production exists alongside cultivated meat production in the service of increasing consumer choice to feed the world. We believe we are an “and” not an “or” solution in the pursuit of feeding the world and enhancing consumer choice.
You recently appointed the former Twitter executive Sean Edgett as your new Chief Legal Officer — what potential do you see, with him on board, to start commercialization in the US and beyond?
We’ve been diligently working to ensure that government regulators understand our technological approach so that they can do the thorough reviews they need to do to give consumers the opportunity to understand and know that it’s safe.
As a company, we’re deeply rooted in science, technology, and pioneering approaches, each of which holds substantial regulatory and scientific implications. This is precisely why Sean’s expertise in navigating complex legal landscapes makes him the perfect fit for this role.
“Ultimately, we want UPSIDE’s products to be available everywhere meat is sold”
Moving forward, Sean will play a key role in advancing our commercial efforts as we work to bring delicious cultivated meat products to consumers across the globe.
Where do you see UPSIDE Foods in five years?
In five years, we envision UPSIDE Foods operating at a larger scale, and having made significant progress towards making products more accessible to consumers.
As you know, we’ve already started serving products at Bar Crenn. Looking ahead, we plan to partner with additional chefs and restaurants in the U.S. and eventually sell our products in grocery stores and markets worldwide. Ultimately, we want UPSIDE’s products to be available everywhere meat is sold, including retail and food service channels.