Europe’s cell-based movement serves up cultured seafood as players race to lower production costs
14 Sep 2021 --- The advent of industry’s cell-based renaissance is being signaled by early movers in the space, particularly in Europe. Frozen food giant Nomad Foods has linked up with cultured seafood player BlueNalu to zero in on commercial opportunities to seize its market share for the novel alternative to ocean-caught fish within the EU.
Meanwhile, profit margins for the novel protein source are anticipated to inflate significantly as production costs for cell culture growth media fall – as is the ambition of Dutch multinational Royal DSM’s new partnership with cultivated meat start-up Meatable.
Speaking to FoodIngredientsFirst, executives of Europe’s pioneering cell-based companies each share their insights on their growth targets based on rapidly scaling catchless and slaughter-free seafood.
Testing the waters of a new market
As a natural progression, cellular agriculture tech has proven its reach beyond primary steak cuts – diversifying into salmon, trout, carp and shrimp. This is timely as the environmental impact of fishing gear came further into light following the debut of Netflix’s documentary Seaspiracy.
In the EU, demand for sustainably produced, healthy seafood products continues to develop. The new agreement between Nomad Foods – owner of brands Birds Eye, Findus and iglo – and BlueNalu represents the “first of its kind” in Europe between a consumer packaged goods company and a cell-cultured seafood company.
“During the first phase of our partnership we are undertaking market research, market insights and regulatory pathway development of cell-cultured seafood in Europe,” says Stéfan Descheemaeker, CEO of Nomad Foods.
“As part of our collaboration, we will work with BlueNalu to assess regulatory requirements and provide guidance for engagement with relevant regulatory agencies and decision-makers.
Complementing existing seafood supply chains
BlueNalu has implemented a species selection strategy that complements the current seafood supply chain, focusing on fish species that are typically imported, difficult to farm-raise, are overfished or non-sustainable, or contain higher levels of environmental contaminants.
Currently, certification standards do not exist around cell-cultured seafood considering the novelty of these products. However, BlueNalu says it is exploring partnership strategies to research and identify possible avenues for a new, cell-cultured seafood certification.
“We will provide an update on the outcomes of this first phase, including any product development updates, in due course.”
Last April, BlueNalu similarly teamed up with two key seafood stakeholders in Asia – Thai Union and Mitsubishi Corporation – to accelerate a market development strategy for cultured seafood in the region.
Developing affordable growth media
Meatable and DSM’s partnership to improve efficiencies in cell-based meat production is anticipated to “result in patentable findings” that will lower the cost of growth media used to cultivate these proteins.
Growth media is a nutrient-rich liquid that contains essential nutrients such as carbohydrates, proteins, salts, vitamins and growth factors that cells need to grow.
This substance is currently estimated to account for 50 to 90 percent of the production cost of cultured meat.
“Many of [growth media suppliers] are producing pharma-grade growth media, with a purity level that isn’t required in cultivated meat production,” Krijn de Nood, co-founder and CEO of Meatable tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
In addition to focusing on the cost-effective production of growth media, DSM and Meatable will focus on the development of meat-like taste and texture of the final product, which are important factors influencing the purchase decision of consumers.
“We are aiming to have our products widely available in stores by 2025,” says de Nood.
DSM Venturing, the venture capital arm of DSM, was a participant in the consortium of funders of Meatable’s recent raise of US$47 million in venture capital.
Co-existing with conventional agriculture
The genesis of the cell-based protein renaissance is met with the question of what will be left of conventional agriculture in the coming decades once the movement fully takes off.
It has been forecasted by cultured meat pioneers that during the early days of the movement, hybrid products containing a combination of plant-based and cultivated meat will take center stage on the market.
Given cell-based protein’s pivotal role in the transformation of the global food system, it is notable that industry can better harness this opportunity effectively with the help of traditional farmers and other stakeholders of conventional agriculture.
It has been flagged in previous analysis that cultured meat companies have a significant opportunity to collaborate with farmers at early stages of production, such as through involving them in cell sourcing and cell feedstock.
“But it’s too early to tell how exactly the conventional industry can play a part in the rise of cultivated meat, but if they spot opportunities, we would encourage that. And we do see things shifting already,” comments de Nood at Meatable.
There is one certainty, however. De Nood stresses: “With traditional animal farming alone, we will not be able to meet the growing demand for meat worldwide – we need breakthrough solutions.”
By Benjamin Ferrer
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