March 12, 2019 |
It takes three weeks for an edible piece of meat to grow from an inconspicuous cell culture. The Israeli company Aleph Farms has been working on this since the beginning of 2017. The team is trying to produce artificial muscle mass similar to beef in a laboratory in Tel Aviv. Founder and CEO Didier Toubia previously led two med-tech companies – one of which has developed a procedure that helps with breast cancer treatment. His co-founder Shulamit Levenberg comes from stem cell research. Aleph Farms is already facing some competition as the startup Mosa Meat served the first hamburger in the petri dish in 2013. Other research teams are trying to work on alternatives for chicken or fish but have not yet presented any products to the public.
The process that Aleph Farms uses, is based on a natural process, as it occurs in the body of cattle. The company take cells from a live, healthy cow without hurting them. From this, the team in the laboratory creates a cell bank. The cells are then transferred to bioreactors, in which the environment is designed exactly as if the cells were in the body of the animal, where they behave accordingly and multiply.
The company found a technique that allows different cell types to grow together: fat cells with cells from blood vessels, muscles and supporting cells. Meat is not just a pure cell mass as it occurs, for example, in boulettes. Meat has a complex texture, a 3D structure that makes up the texture and appearance. And that’s why Aleph Farms is developing steaks and not burger patties. The cells are grown on a scaffold and the matrix arranged linear so that the cells eventually grow together in a three-dimensional tissue. The nutrient medium in which the cells grow contains no serum, so no animal components, but is purely a vegetable mass.
Aleph Farms presented the first prototypes of its steak in December. But what’s next?
Now they are shifting their focus to the production process. The prototypes were produced in the laboratory. But when the company goes to market, they cannot do that anymore. That’s why they are building bio farms that look a bit like a brewery. These production facilities should go live within the next two to three years in order to then start a small, limited launch with a few restaurants. And then it will certainly take up to two more years to produce larger quantities. The company specifically wants to introduce its meat in the restaurant industry before it is sold in retail.
In order to reach their ambitious goals, Aleph Farms currently is still collecting money from US and Asian investors. According to the founders, the company probably needs a double-digit million amount in order to scale further and open up the global market. However, given the shift in global consumer behaviour and the growth of vegan and vegetarian diets are a promising outlook for companies that provide meat alternatives.
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