Forget free-range, antibiotic-free, and grass-fed—tomorrow’s burger will be lab-cultured. Scientists are creating a new slaughterhouse-free food group called clean meat: edible animal protein grown in a vat. Stem cells are extracted from animals, brewed in a bioreactor, fortified with nutrients like amino acids and glucose, and structured around collagen “scaffolds.” It’s not just about cultivating the ideal boneless chicken wing: These miracle meats could reduce the planet-depleting land and water use of traditional animal agriculture by more than 80 percent. “From an investment standpoint, this is potentially a trillion-dollar market opportunity,” says New Crop Capital partner Christopher Kerr, leading VCs to grab a stake in their labstock of choice.
Last year, DFJ, Atomico, Fifty Years, and others invested $17 million in Memphis Meats’ in vitro beef, chicken, and duck. Sergey Brin bankrolled MosaMeat, creator of the world’s first clean burger. Scandal-plagued mayo maker Hampton Creek (newly rebranded as Just) is concocting cultured poultry. And SOSV and IndieBio are backing boneless fish fillets by Finless Foods. The results—and taste tests—have been promising. Now these ultramodern farmers need their science to scale. “The biggest challenge is taking what’s in the lab and making it commercially viable,” says David Welch, director of science and technology at the Good Food Institute. A pound of Memphis Meats takes $2,400 to produce, due to the pricey medium needed to culture cells; the company aims to reduce that cost to under $5. Good to hear—a $600 Quarter Pounder is no value meal.