No food group is undergoing more rapid and radical transformations than meat. All types of meat – from prawn and chicken, to pork and mutton – might someday just as likely come from a lab as a farm.
Singapore startup Shiok Meats recently made headlines for raising $17.3 million in Series A funding to manufacture cell-based seafood. The company takes stem cells from crustaceans (shrimp, crab and lobster), and multiplies them in a laboratory.
The results taste as good as the real thing, say founders Sandhya Sriram and Ka Yi Ling, who are former stem cell scientists-turned-food techpreneurs.
Meanwhile another Singapore startup – also founded by a stem cell biologist-turned-food techpreneur – is doing for red meat what Shiok Meats is for seafood. The aptly-named Gaiafoods is in the process of raising more funds for the research and development of cell-based beef, pork and mutton.
Right now, it takes 440,000 cows to produce 175 million burgers. But if Gaiafoods can perfect the science, all it takes is one cow – yes, one cow.
The company founder Vinayaka Srinivas says: “What holds us back – not just our company but everyone in this field of cell-based meat – is the technology. We know how to do it, we know it can be done, but the technology is slow and expensive… We expect there will be breakthroughs in the coming years and we will see the process of making cell-based meat becoming increasingly cheaper to produce.”
For now, a Whopper with a cell-based patty would cost a whopping $1,000 to create in a lab. Last year, it was $2,000. Within less a decade, pundits expect cell-based meat to be as inexpensive as ordinary meat.
For its part, Singapore has embraced cutting-edge developments in cell-based food as well as plant-based food. The land-scarce country views them as a means of achieving its goal of producing 30 per cent of its nutritional needs by 2030. Currently, it imports 90 per cent of its food.
To that end, it is extremely supportive of the food tech sector. The government allocated over $144 million into food research programmes such as urban agriculture, cultured meat and microbial protein production under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan.
And Singaporeans were the first in the region to embrace Impossible Foods’ plant-based burger and Just’s mung bean-based eggs.
Mr Avinash Aswani, the CEO of superfood drink mixes company LVL Life, says: “Singapore is the best positioned in the region to trial these products. The country has a high number of wealthy consumers and forward-thinking consumers, who are thinking not just in terms of how can they satisfy their hunger, but what they’re putting into their mouths, where does it come from originally, and how does the production of that food impact the larger environment.”
We look at three young companies – all under three years old – that are trying to change the way we eat with their plant-based foods.