Whole Foods Founder Mackey Invests in Producer of Cultured Meat

A prominent producer of cultivated meat is renaming itself and announcing its first commercial plans -- and has secured investment from Whole Foods Market and its founder, John Mackey.

The moves by Upside Foods, formerly known as Memphis Meats, show the industry is ready to sell its products to the public when there’s U.S. regulatory approval. While it’s unclear when or if the products will get a green light, Upside Chief Executive Officer Uma Valeti says his company is prepared to move quickly. Chicken will be the first cultured meat product that it offers.

“We are looking for the earliest possible date and we’ll be ready,” Valeti said. “If it is by end of year, we’ll be ready, if it’s a little longer, we’ll be ready.”

Whole Foods Founder Mackey Invests in Producer of Cultured Meat

Cellular agriculture companies, which produce proteins like beef and chicken by growing meat from cells instead of slaughtering live animals, must get approval from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration before they can offer their products to the public. There is no public timeline for this, but industry executives have expressed optimism. Companies are currently awaiting guidance on labeling standards, which would be an important step toward retail sales.

“We are ready for business and we want to put products in front of the consumer,” Valeti said.

‘Tremendous Damage’

Mackey, who invested about $500,000 of his money in Upside, said cultured meat has an important role to play as consumers start to look at more alternatives to meat.

“This could change the world in a very good way because of the horrendous suffering that livestock animals go through, the tremendous damage that industrial agriculture has done to the environment,” Mackey said in an interview.

Whole Foods, which also invested an undisclosed amount in Upside, would be an important retail partner. Mackey said no decisions have been made about carrying Upside products, but “I hope that we do.”

Whole Foods Founder Mackey Invests in Producer of Cultured Meat

While Upside isn’t announcing the exact products it is planning to offer, the company has made products such as chicken fillets in the past. It also has the capability to make other animal-based products, including duck, beef and seafood, but is starting with chicken because of its versatility and wide appeal.

The industry has seen momentum build recently. In early 2020, Upside raised $161 million in new funding. That round eventually swelled to $186 million and included the investments from Whole Foods and Mackey. SoftBank Group Corp. and Cargill Inc. also participated.

Also last year, Eat Just Inc., which makes plant-based egg substitutes, started selling cell-grown chicken in a restaurant in Singapore. There are now more than 70 cellular meat companies globally cultivating meats ranging from chicken to foie gras to kangaroo. Cultured meat could make up as much as 35% of the $1.8 trillion global meat market by 2040, according to an estimate from Kearney.

The same shift that has driven the growth of plant-based meat, fueling the rise of companies like Impossible Foods Inc. and Beyond Meat Inc., is expected to entice younger, environmentally conscious consumers to eat meat grown in bioreactors, as well.

The environmental benefits, however, remain to be proven. Cultured meat will still produce emissions from heating and electricity, a recent assessment by environmental researcher CE Delft found. Based on nations’ stated power and gas policies for 2030, cultivated meat is expected to have a lower environmental impact than beef, but higher than chicken, pork and plant-based alternatives.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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