Cargill Inc., one of the world’s largest meat producers, has invested in another company growing “cultured meat” in a lab.
The Minnetonka-based agribusiness joined others in a nearly $12 million funding round for Israeli startup Aleph Farms, which said in December that it was the first in the world to grow a beef steak from cattle cells in a lab.
Cargill’s precise investment wasn’t disclosed. The firm is positioning itself through investments to capitalize on innovations in meat alternatives and rising consumer interest in them. VisVires New Protein of Singapore led the funding round for Aleph.
This is Cargill’s second investment in a so-called “cultured meat” company. In 2017, it joined the likes of Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Tyson Foods in backing Memphis Meats, which claims to have produced the world’s first chicken strips from animal cells.
Advocates said cultured meat, also called cell-based or clean meat, is better for the environment and is more humane. The product comes from animals but doesn’t require the same resources to raise and slaughter as traditional meat.
The Good Food Institute (GFI), an interest group supporting the growth of plant-based and cell-based meat alternatives, applauded the investment.
“We’re just at the beginning of a tremendous growth period for the cell-based meat industry, which is being spurred on with the support of the world’s biggest meat companies,” Bruce Friedrich, executive director of GFI, said Tuesday in a statement.
“With global demand for meat set to double by 2050, capturing even a fraction of this burgeoning market would represent a massive opportunity for cell-based meat companies. Companies like Cargill recognize the immense investment opportunity to diversify their portfolios and reap the profits as this nascent industry takes form,” Friedrich said.
A recent report published by the group tallied 11 cell-based meat companies that were founded in 2018 alone, bringing the total globally to 27.
The emerging technology, however, is splintering the natural-foods community with influential voices, such as the Non-GMO Project, opposing the characterization of it being a “clean” meat. The group opposes synthetic biology in food until further testing proves its long-term effects on human health.
Apart from cultured meat, Cargill holds a minority stake in Minneapolis-based Puris, one of the nation’s leading providers of pea protein, which is used in a variety of vegan meat and dairy products, from yogurt to coffee creamer. Earlier this month, one of Puris’ largest customers, Beyond Meat, had the best market debut of 2019 with shares more than doubling in value in its first two weeks of trading. On Monday, Beyond Meat’s biggest rival, Impossible Foods, raised another $300 million funding.
Cultured meat still represents a small sliver of Cargill’s protein business, the company said Tuesday, but the company recognizes the potential benefit of having a stake in the most innovative technologies.
“Consumer demand for protein continues to be very strong. That means there’s an opportunity for plant and cultured protein growth to complement our traditional animal protein portfolio,” Sonya Roberts, managing director of growth ventures and strategic pricing for Cargill Protein North America, said in a statement.
“This partnership connects new frontiers in cell-based technology with insights in the global food system and supply chains to meet future customer and consumer needs,” Roberts said.
Over the same two years, Cargill has invested $1.5 billion in traditional meat products.