Eat Just Inc, a San Francisco-based startup that primarily manufactures plant-based eggs has been making headlines recently for manufacturing lab-grown chicken and getting the green light from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to sell it to the masses in Singapore.
On December 19, Eat Just debuted the world’s first sale of its cultured meat for human consumption to 1880, a private social club in Singapore, which received raving reviews from customers.
Eat Just’s customer survey conducted after the event showed that the majority of the attendees found that their products’ taste to be equivalent to conventional chicken meat and that they were open to substitute their chicken consumption for cultured chicken.
Investor and public confidence seem to herald a bright and promising future for this revolutionary food company, which is backed by a slew of big investors including Temasek Holdings, Qatar’s Sovereign Wealth Fund, Charlesbank Capital Partners, Li Ka-shing and Vulcan Capital.
Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just told Vulcan Post over a Zoom interview that the company has gone through a long journey to reach this stage of maturity.
It has been in operation for 8.5 years now, and only by the seventh year did they successfully launch and sell their plant-based egg substitute Just Egg. To add on, they were only able to sell GOOD Meat to the public last December.
There were so many challenges that we have overcome as a team and as a company. Having been backed by big private and institutional investors, we have a lot of pressure to deliver what we promise, and it took years to perfect our product. This is not an easy company to do — it is very capital intensive.
If I were to open a bicycle shop for instance, it would have been easier and faster to produce results and reap profit. We are a game changer, and as with any product that triggers value migration, it takes tremendous effort to educate the public on what we are all about.– Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just
Fixing The Broken Food System
Raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Josh Tetrick grew up with dreams of becoming a football player but he quickly abandoned this ambition when he realised that he was not cut out for it.
He did a lot of charity work in Sub-Saharan Africa, including a United Nations initiative in Kenya and teaching street kids in multiple African countries as a Fullbright Scholar, but felt that it was not enough to make a difference.
Rather, he felt that the most effective way to enact positive change in the world was through business intervention.
In 2011, together with his best friend Josh Balk, he co-founded a California-based food technology company with a single mission to fix our broken food system.
Our goal is to build a food system that does not require killing a single animal, cutting a single tree or using a single drop of antibiotics. Our vision is crystal clear, and this keeps us going.– Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just
However, it has not been a straightforward trajectory for the team.
Whether it is building the technology, understanding how to hire the right people, working with the right investors to ensure that they have the capital to build whatever necessary, and challenging a big assumption of our food system, Eat Just has made possible what was previously thought as impossible.
“There has been a lot of resistance,” Josh said. “We worked with regulators for two years to sell cultured meat in Singapore.”
The team’s final regulatory achievement involved an iterative and extensive safety review by the SFA. During this process, Eat Just complied with SFA’s food safety requirements for the assessment of novel foods.
In addition, Eat Just’s cultured chicken was also confirmed to be safe and nutritious for human consumption by a distinguished panel of international scientific authorities in Singapore and the United States, with expertise in medicine, toxicology, allergenicity, cell biology and food safety.
Josh learnt that growing meat in a lab is easy to do on a small scale, but difficult to do in a large manufacturing environment. Another big challenge comes from the pushback they receive from uneasy customers who question the “naturalness” of lab-grown meat.
Over 60 billion chickens are slaughtered every single year for mass production. They are living in cramped cages, being fed antibiotics that lead to all sorts of public and health hazards to the consumers.
Josh pointed out that this does not only apply to chickens — apparently over 99.99 per cent of animals consumed today are bred through industrialised production. The remaining less than one per cent of consumed animals are raised under natural conditions.
“So tell me, what is natural about our current food system?” Josh asked.
Why You Should Opt For Cultured Chicken Meat
Josh explained that the cultured chicken meat is created directly from unmodified (non-GMO) animal cells that are cultivated in a bioreactor.
These cells are fed with a host of nutrients necessary for an animal to grow and thrive — including carbohydrates, amino acids, fats, minerals and vitamins, so that they can multiply and form chunks of meat.
I am not going to tell you that you are a bad person for slaughtering animals. But if you reflect upon it, all the problems we have today in the food system, stem from the premise that we can kill animals for food.
So this leads to clearing of lands and forests, production of more greenhouse gases, over consumption of antibiotics, viral diseases like bird flu, and many more. All these negative chains of consequences come from one moral code that it is okay to kill animals. If we change that basic premise, we change everything else.– Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just
Chef Kaimana Chee, a resident chef with Eat Just who has been experimenting and cooking with Just Egg and Good Meat, as well as working with other chefs to perfect different alternative meat product recipes, said that there are no cons whatsoever in using cultured meat.
“It tastes like chicken, it acts like chicken, it cooks like chicken. It is healthier, there is no after taste, and to some people, it tastes even better!”
S’pore To Be The World’s Leader For Sustainable Food
Their cultured chicken was manufactured at the Food Innovation and Resource Centre, a food research facility co-run by Singapore Polytechnic and Enterprise Singapore.
“We scoured the globe before deciding to push production in Singapore,” Josh explained to Vulcan Post. “Good Meat is basically a Singapore story.”
The company recognised how forward-thinking the government and the citizens are, and that the city state’s regulatory environment is most suitable for their launch.
“The regulatory board is very evidence-based. It is not easy to pass the evaluation as it is very stringent and thorough but it is all very scientific, objective and fair. Singapore is the best country in the world to launch our product.”
Singapore has since set a historical leading example for the rest of the world by approving the commercial sales and consumption of cultured meat.
The SFA in particular, has set a target of producing 30 percent of Singapore’s nutritional needs by 2030, which has led to a rise in food technology startups here.
From the policy perspective, Eat Just seems to be in line with Singapore’s goal. In fact, it lists tackling climate change, improving domestic food production and food safety among its sustainable development goals by 2030.
Being an international hub in Asia, consumer’s base in Singapore is so diverse, coming from all over the world.
When we are learning how people from across countries and cultures think about this meat, it is great to have a diverse customer base. Singapore really is the best place for our company and I foresee the country to be a world’s leader for the sustainable food industry.– Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just
Scaling Up In S’pore
As they scale up commercially, Eat Just said that they plan to invest “tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure” to bring their costs down.
Last October, Eat Just announced plans to build a plant protein facility in Singapore to meet the demands for alternative animal products in the region.
Since identifying Singapore as a “major focus” for the company, Eat Just plans to ramp up its presence here. In fact, they have been working extensively with the Economic Development Board to hire local talent.
In terms of new product launches, the company is looking to explore cultured beef next year, as they intend to diversify their product offerings and come up with alternatives for different animal products.
Beyond Singapore, they intend to export to China, Japan, Korea and Europe once regulatory approval is granted. Josh envisions that Eat Just will eventually build other facilities all over the world and push for production and distribution across the globe.
“We will make this mainstream,” he concludes optimistically.
As the first cultured meat company in the world to sell publicly to the customers, Eat Just has gained the first mover advantage in this industry.
If they manage to keep their pace ahead of their global competitors, they have the potential to secure market shares and play a big part in shaping the future of the cultured meat.
However, whether cultured meat will eventually take off and become mainstream is still a big question mark. Nailing down the right taste, texture, and the right price will be key to ensure mainstream adoption.
Featured Image Credit: Eat Just