We’ve officially entered a new era of ‘cultivated’ meat production

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U.S. regulators met another alternative protein milestone Wednesday when they approved both Upside Foods and Good Meat to sell their cultivated chicken products within the country.

Known as “cell-cultivated” or “cultured meat,” these proteins are made from animal cells rather than slaughtered animals and are often developed using a fermentation process involving bioreactors.

Upside Foods and Good Meat, both based in California, will now be able to serve their food, initially in restaurants. Upside has already taken its first restaurant order and will provide limited quantities to Bar Crenn in San Francisco, while Good Meat has a partnership with a restaurant in Washington, DC, run by chef and owner José Andrés.

Today’s approval follows the U.S. Department of Agriculture last week approving the way both companies were going to label their products.

Both companies also received a grant of inspection from the USDA, Upside for its engineering, production, and innovation center, and Good Meat for its demonstration plant in Alameda, along with its contract manufacturing partner, JOINN Biologics. The inspection process includes examination of facilities and equipment; standard operating procedure for sanitation; and the systematic approach to identification, evaluation and control of food safety hazards, according to Good Meat.

Prior to today, Singapore was the only country allowing sales of cultivated chicken. Good Meat was the first company to get approval to sell its cultivated chicken product there and received a U.S. Food and Drug Administration clearance in March, joining Upside Foods as the only two companies to move to that next stage of commercializing their products in the U.S.

Cultivated meat is a complex process that traditionally is expensive and takes time. There’s also consumer tastes involved. In addition to Singapore and the U.S., some regions, like the United Kingdom, are supporting this industry, while others (e.g., Italy) are questioning it.

Globally, there are dozens of companies not far behind in getting cultivated, or cell-cultured, meat products on the market, and following today’s announcement, we will likely see more companies fast-track their products through the regulatory process. In the U.S., companies have to receive approval from both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the USDA before commercializing their products in this country.

Despite the challenges, some venture capitalists investing in the space remain confident. SOSV/IndieBio general partner Po Bronson said via email that the new approvals were “great for the cell-cultivated meat sector.” He explained that much of the “cell-cultivated products coming to market are hybrid products” and that “as cell-cultivated meat grows, this will shape and alter the alternative protein sector, impacting who aggregates and who gets aggregated, where only companies with genuine technological advancements will survive and become part of the larger supply chain. Needless to say, the days of just buying some pea protein, an extruder, some vegetable oil and some methylcellulose — and hoping to print money — are long gone.”

He also noted that the cultivated meat industry is shifting, and it will be difficult for new startups to compete against early companies that have scaled, saying, “We’ve seen some acquisitions but not high value ones. More money will flow, absolutely, but only to companies who can demonstrate their technology is meaningfully different and not imitative or interchangeable. Those are the companies to watch.”

Meanwhile, in a TechCrunch+ investor survey last week, the investors specifically discussed companies working with the U.S. government.

One investor, Johnny Ream, partner at Stray Dog Capital, noted that his firm encourages portfolio companies to engage with regulators early and be transparent in their process.

“Having that open dialogue is critical to identify regulatory risk factors that might be present and should inform the product development strategy,” Ream said. “Without that engagement will be a greater chance of significant regulatory barriers and/or regulator education as a company approaches market entry.”

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