The cellular agriculture market is one of the fastest-growing categories in the alternative protein space. This category uses drastically fewer resources, requires less space, and offers greater food safety and hygiene benefits than conventional animal protein. With the need for sustainable food sources becoming increasingly urgent the benefits of cultivated products are becoming more attractive and driving demand for their imminent launch.
To date, only one nation has granted regulatory approval for cultivated products to be sold in the consumer market. In 2020, Singapore approved the sale of Eat JUST cultivated chicken products in a restaurant setting. Since this historic announcement, Singapore has emerged as a hub for alternative protein innovation and recently made history for a second time, as the first nation to approve the commercial sale of protein grown “out of thin air.”
The ripple effects of regulatory approval of cellular agriculture products in the market have been huge for Singapore. Increasing the small country’s access to cutting-edge technology, major increases in investment values and media attention boosting the nation’s overall presence on the global stage, and allowing the nation to become a host for major international conferences and meetings spurring widespread development for the category.
These developments serve as a road map or example for other nations currently undertaking regulatory assessments of cellular agriculture products. For example, the U.S. which has recently granted pre-approval to SDC portfolio company Upside Foods for their cultivated chicken fillet products – the first step in the approval process for commercial sale in market.
As a novel protein source, cellular agriculture products face market barriers with regulatory approval serving as the most immediate. Aside from this, founders in the category need to be considering their strategy for obtaining consumer acceptance of their products, marketing techniques to reach a broad base of customers, and pricing goals to ensure in-market accessibility and product stickiness.
Despite these barriers, a recent survey from MMR, a global consumer research and sensory agency, revealed that close to 50% of consumers in the Netherlands, US, UK, China, and Singapore expect cellular agriculture products to overtake plant-based options in demand and popularity before it is even widely available.
These respondents reported being deterred from plant-based options as the closer they move towards emulating conventional meat products, the more unfamiliar ingredients are incorporated.
Cellular agriculture companies, in contrast, have an opportunity to move beyond the “meat-like” category and enter the market as better-for-you, more sustainable versions of known products. Dr Mark Hazelgrove, Behavioural Science Consultant at The Together Agency explained that as boundaries blur, people become apprehensive as they cannot define the category in which the most meat-like plant-based options exist. They sit within this unknown area of “not quite meat but not quite non-meat either.”
“We need to move away from comparisons. This [ie, cultured meat] is not a comparison to meat, it is meat,” he said and recommended that the industry establish a clear role of cultured meat within the meat category.
What founders in the cellular agriculture category need to understand is that while the need for these products and initial demand for them in the market exists, it is essential to meet consumers where they are and position these products to fulfill demand. With regulatory approval expected to occur in many nations within the next few years, it is time to be designing these strategies and ensuring they are tested for use in-market.