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Published May 1st, 2024

Cultivated fat: The flavor frontier in meat alternatives

The field of alternative proteins has witnessed remarkable innovation, particularly in the quest to replicate the sensory attributes of traditional meat in the form of cultivated meat. The narrative has been dominated by efforts to replicate muscle tissue. However, a transformative ingredient is poised to elevate the culinary landscape of meat alternatives: cultivated fat.

Cultivated fat refers to fat grown in a lab setting through cellular agriculture, the production of animal-based products from cell cultures rather than directly from animals. Beyond its role in texture and juiciness, fat is integral to the flavor that defines meat's appeal. This pivotal component, once overlooked, is now recognized as the key to unlocking authentic taste experiences in meat alternatives.

The technological innovation of cultivating fat in labs, a process underpinned by cellular agriculture, the precise replication of animal cells in controlled environment, offers a sustainable path forward, bypassing the environmental and ethical dilemmas of traditional livestock farming. This presents a significant opportunity for investors and corporates in the food sector.

The science behind cultivated fat

Cultivated fat involves the precise replication of animal fat cells in a controlled environment, a process that harnesses the power of cellular agriculture. This innovative technology mimics the natural development of fat tissue, providing a way to produce fat without requiring animal farming. This method not only promises an authentic taste and texture but also a significantly reduced environmental footprint. Additionally, fat cell cultivation might be easier to commercialize than muscle as fat cells grow faster. However, developing tasty fat requires careful calibration of the cell media because the "cells become what they eat," meaning that the media used to grow the cells are crucial to their final taste and quality. Also, other factors like the scaffold's complexity and the regulatory approval process must be considered.

Animal fat plays a crucial role in creating the intense flavors that characterize meat. This insight drives the progress of the field, as scientists and companies work hard to replicate the specific composition and properties of animal fat. The development of cultivated fat not only advances our culinary capabilities but also presents an opportunity for investors looking to pioneer in the food technology space. The potential for scalability and lower environmental impact positions cultivated fat as a lucrative area for investment.

Alternative approaches: Fermented fats and oleogels

Diving into the broader spectrum of alternative fats, we find innovative methods like fermentation and the creation of oleogels. Fermented fats, such as those developed by companies like Melt&Marble and Yali Bio, are produced by microbes such as yeasts and mirror molecular properties of animal fats. This fermentation process is a promising alternative that could contribute to the sustainability and scalability of future food production.

Oleogels, on the other hand, are encapsulated plant fats that mimic the attributes of animal fat. They offer a slow release of fat during cooking, contributing to the sensory experience of meat consumption. Companies like Shiru and Cubiq Foods are advancing this technology, creating solid oleogels from liquid sunflower and olive oil, thus providing a plant-based fat alternative that holds the potential to transform the texture and flavor of plant-based meats. This breadth of innovation underscores the potential for investment in alternative fats, each approach offering unique benefits and opportunities for shaping the future of food.

Elevating plant-based burgers

A very promising use of cultivated fat is to improve plant-based burgers. By adding lab-grown fat to these products, they can taste much better and more like a regular beef burger. This novel method could change the plant-based meat industry, giving consumers a product that not only imitates but surpasses the real flavor and texture of meat. It can serve as a link between the plant-based and fully cultivated meat technologies, which are more distant from widespread market availability. This achievement highlights the possibility for cultivated fat to become a key ingredient in the wider alternative protein market, driving a change in consumer tastes and eating habits.

For example, Hoxton Farms, a leading cultivated fat start-up recently opened a 14,000 sqft pilot plant in London and indicated that the initial market will be plant-based meat. While some brands do not want to lose their 100% plant-based labels, many are targeting flexitarians and meat eaters who do not mind seeing animal fat on the ingredients list. This evolving consumer base presents an opportunity for investors to support the growth of companies that bridge the gap between traditional and alternative proteins, fostering innovation and sustainability in the food sector.

Another example is the collaboration between Mission Barns and Silva Sausage, where Mission Barns' cultivated fat is being integrated into Silva's artisan sausages, showcasing a promising venture into enhancing traditional meat products with sustainable, lab-grown alternatives.

Food quality and customer perceptions

The journey of cultivated fat from lab to table also presents an opportunity to reshape consumer perceptions of meat alternatives. Moreover, the ability to customize the nutritional profile of cultivated fat—engineering it to be healthier while retaining its flavorful qualities—addresses growing consumer demand for nutritious yet indulgent foods, opening new possibilities for product differentiation and market leadership.

Opportunities and challenges for investments

Cultivated fat is an area that offers both opportunities and challenges for investors. The innovation in this sector can transform the alternative protein market by providing a key to realistic taste and texture, but it also raises issues on how to scale, reduce costs, and win consumer acceptance.

The journey of cultivated fat to dining tables worldwide also depends on regulatory approvals. For instance, in the US, companies like Eat Just have made headway with their cultivated chicken, setting a precedent for regulatory approval of cell-based foods by the FDA. This paves a path for cultivated fats, yet each region's distinct regulatory landscape, such as the European Union's EFSA, presents unique challenges to gain market access.

Moreover, there's a significant opportunity for established food and beverage companies to innovate from within by developing or integrating cultivated fat technologies into their existing product lines. This approach not only accelerates the path to market for these novel ingredients but also leverages the company's brand strength and distribution channels to educate and introduce consumers to these sustainable options. Internal development strategies can serve as a powerful complement to external investments, allowing companies to be at the forefront of innovation while potentially reducing reliance on startups for breakthrough technologies.

As we explore this new territory, the possibility of high returns on investment is clear, given the increasing consumer demand for food options that are both sustainable and ethical. However, this path involves navigating the complexities of biotechnological innovation and consumer education. Investing in cultivated fat is not just supporting a product; it's fostering innovation in food production, with the potential for significant returns as the technology matures and gains prevalence in mainstream food markets.

To conclude, the development of cultivated fat marks a significant advancement in the pursuit of ethical food systems, offering a prime opportunity for investors and corporates looking to make a meaningful impact in the food sector. The technological advances in cultivated fat present a unique opportunity to engage in the evolution of food practices, while also tapping into a market poised for substantial growth. As the narrative around food production evolves, investors have the chance to drive significant advancements in the food sector, ensuring a future where delicious, nutritious, and ethical food is accessible to all.

Interested in exploring the potential of cultivated fat or other alternative proteins for your business?
Schedule a 30-minute call with our managing partner, Floor, to learn more about how we can help drive your success in the alternative protein space. Discover innovative strategies that can differentiate your products in the market and enhance your goals. Let us help you navigate the complexities of this rapidly evolving industry and transform challenges into opportunities for growth.

Ready to discover what alt protein strategies could mean for your business? Discuss it in a 30 minute call with our Managing Partner, Floor.
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