In the last few years, the number of companies manufacturing meat from animal cells has skyrocketed, as everyone from venture capitalists and governments to celebrity climate advocates ramp up investing in lab-grown meat — a small but rapidly growing industry with potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions without requiring the world to go vegan.
Today, dozens of lab-grown meat companies are developing chicken, lamb, beef and other varieties of meat without raising or slaughtering animals, up from just four in 2016. Among the industry's big-named backers are Bill Gates, who's called for wealthy nations to one day "move to 100% synthetic beef," celebrity chef and humanitarian José Andrés, and even traditional meat giants like Tyson Foods, which has invested in the industry and provided backing to us at Believer Meats.
According to some projections, the cultivated meat industry, as it's often called, has the potential to reach $25 billion in market size by 2030 and contribute hundreds of billions of pounds of meat to the world's food supply. This is an enticing prospect for climate-conscious governments, businesses and other players seeking to curb the meat industry's significant carbon footprint.
Below, we dig into where the support is coming from, why different investors are betting on lab-grown meat, and the extent to which the increased support is accelerating when lab-grown meat will be available to consumers and not just a cool concept to read about.
How is lab grown meat made?
We begin with a necessary primer on the process of making cultivated meat. Why? Because here is where most investors and cultivated meat cheerleaders see its revolutionary potential. According to various studies, lab-grown meat — if scaled and produced in environmentally-friendly facilities — could significantly cut livestock land use and emissions, and curb global dependence on animal slaughter.
So what does the process entail? All cultivated meat companies use real animal cells from living chickens, pigs, cows, and other animals to make meat in a controlled environment. Crucially, the process does not require farms, fertilizer, feedlots, livestock and all the other emission-heavy components of a conventional meat supply chain.
At Believer, we source cells from a single animal per species of meat we cultivate. From that sample of cells, we isolate cells that proliferate indefinitely — or "spontaneously immortalize" — and use those as the basis of all of our meat. We then provide those cells with the nutrients and environmental conditions needed to support their growth and reproduction in bit batches of cells.. These batches are then combined with protein and other natural ingredients to make chicken strips, lamb kebab and other cuts of meat.
Those investing in lab-grown meat are betting on this process going mainstream and helping to feed a growing global population without driving us further into a climate crisis . As our founder Prof. Yaakov Nahmias has put it: The cultivated meat industry is poised to be "a massive agent of change, creating a sustainable future for coming generations."
How much money are people investing in lab-grown meat?
Cultivated meat companies raised more than $1.3 billion in 2021 and $634 million in the first half of 2022, according to the Good Food Institute, an alternative protein think tank. Some of the biggest raises include $400 million raised last year by Upside Foods, and more than $300 million raised by us in 2021 when we were known as Future Meat Technologies.
Who is investing in lab-grown meat?
A range of people, governments and organizations have made important contributions to the cultivated meat industry. Here’s a look at key investor groups.
Sovereign wealth funds, VCs and private investors.
These groups have led investment in lab-grown meat alongside conventional meat industry giants. The Abu Dhabi Growth Fund and Singaporean government firm Tamasek Holdings Ltd. led Upside's Series C $400 million funding round, which also included support from Bill Gates, SoftBank Group, Cargill Inc. and Believer-backer Tyson Foods. Believer's $347 million Series B investment round was led by ADM Ventures, the venture investing arm of ADM, a global leader in human and animal nutrition. It also included participation from the Menora Mivtachim pension and insurance fund, which manages over $85 billion in assets, S2G Ventures, and the venture capital arm of Tyson Foods.
Conventional meat industry leaders
Companies like Tyson, JBS and Cargill have also invested in lab-grown meat companies, with JBS acquiring Spain-based startup BioTech Foods and Cargill investing in Memphis Meats and Aleph Farms.
Governments too have played an important role in supporting the development of the cultivated meat industry. In 2022, Israel gave an $18 million grant to a consortium of 14 cultivated meat companies as well as 10 universities and research institutions. The Dutch government has similarly committed $60 million of public funding to creating an ecosystem around the cultivated meat and dairy industries, while the U.S. has put $10 million toward the establishment of a National Institute for Cellular Agriculture.
Climate-conscious chefs and celebrities
Famous activists are supporting the industry with Michelin-Starred Chef chefs José Andrés and Dominique Crenn committing to serving cultivated meat at their restaurants. Other big names to back the industry through investments and partnerships include Ashton Kutcher, Mark Cuban and Leonardo DiCaprio.
When will lab-grown meat be available?
Singapore is the only place diners can buy lab-grown meat as of now. But cultivated meat companies and regulators are clearing paths toward commercialization. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently approved cultivated meat for human consumption, a big milestone for the industry. Believer Meats, meanwhile, recently broke ground on our first commercial-scale production facility in the U.S. — slated to be the largest in the world — in anticipation of regulatory approval.
Despite considerable industry progress over the last few years, experts agree that commercialization and widespread adoption depend on a range of factors, from scientific advancements to regulatory approvals, supply chain and manufacturing developments, consumer appetite and ramped-up investment.
What's next for cultivated meat?
In a 2021 report, McKinsey & Company noted that the industry still needed a "massive capital build-out" to reach a fraction of the protein market, though it also said that in a high-growth scenario, the cultivated meat market could reach $30 billion by 2030. Other forecasts range from lower figures to well over $500 billion in annual sales by 2050.
The GFI attributes the wide variation in projections to the industry still being in its early stages. But the think tank, a leading expert on the cultivated meat market, argues in its most recent "state of the industry" report that the industry will continue "to grow meaningfully over the coming decades" and that "signs indicate that the world is on the cusp of a global race for alternative protein innovation."
For our part, Believer Meats has been grateful to receive important backing from people and institutions committed to developing the cultivated meat ecosystem and driving down costs to a level that will enable the industry to scale and reach its planet-changing potential. The support has enabled us to begin construction at our U.S. plant, continue research and development, and step-by-step move closer to mass producing the delicious cultivated meat you know and love, only better.