Within the last decade, the meat industry has faced a rising challenges related to business, ethical and environmental concerns. Many global food corporations have also began shifting into plant-based protein due to increased pressure from food start-ups and changes in consumer behaviour .
The meat and dairy alternative markets are experiencing strong growth. In 2021, US shoppers spent more than $7 billion USD on meat and dairy alternatives. It is expected that by 2027, the global sale is expected to reach $70 billion . In Europe, sales of Plant-based meat and dairy alternatives have grown by 10% year-on-year. However, there are regional differences across Europe. UK, with its highly competitive retail environment, is leading the way in both range and pricing of the plant-based alternative products . Key drivers for increasing consumption of plant-based alternatives have been the reduction in pricing and improvements on taste, texture and overall sensorial experience.
One of the key emerging trends in the meat alternatives industry is the cultured meat technology. Lab-grown meat or cultured meat are biologically the same as meat from animals but are made from bioreactors using a small cluster of stem cells that scientists grow into muscles and fats. Lab-grown meat are touted by start-ups as a way to ease climate change associated with meat production, which contributed to about 1/3 of human-induced methane emission. Another advantage of the lab-grown meat is that there is no need to worry about hormones, antibiotics and heavy metals that may appear in farmed meat or fish. Cultured meat has garner interests from investors and Hollywood celebrities. Since 2020, investors have poured more than $2.1 billion into cultured meat start-ups. However, there are still challenges that need to be overcome.
1. Regulatory approval
To ease its reliance on importing food from neighbouring countries, Singapore, in December 2020, became the first country to approve the sale of protein grown entirely in a laboratory. However, the FDA and European Agency haven’t approved cell-cultured meat for commercialisation. Several cultured-meat firms (Meatable, East Just and Mosa Meat) are currently working with regulators in Europe with the aim of approval in the next few years.
2. Cost of production
Lab grown meat requires foetal calf serum (isolated from blood of pregnant cows), which is very expensive and controversial from ethical point of view. Furthermore, the process of culturing meat is energy-intensive requiring series of heating and cooling process. New innovation will like centre around reducing production cost and solving the bottleneck of scaling.
3. Consumer acceptance
Consumers have grown increasingly comfortable with non-meat alternatives, but the lab-grown meat is still a new concept. A study commissioned by Eat Just in 2021 that surveyed 2,522 US consumers showed that 69% of people would consider trading conventional meat for cultured meat. This is significantly increased from a similar study surveyed in 2018 where only 27% would purchase cultured meat .
However, the lack of regulatory approval for commercialisation of cultured meat in America and Europe has hindered its ability to test the market and gain consumer feedback.