Week 11: Mastering the Art of Meat

This week focused on the biotechnology behind cultured meat. Unbeknownst to me, projects on in-vitro meat for food consumption had begun as early as the 2000s and only recently are we seeing the commercialisation of such cultured meat, with quite a breakthrough success. However, the success of this technology did not come without a shortage of challenges.

Firstly there is the technical aspect of engineering the cultured meat to be as close as possible in terms of taste and texture to real meat. A lot of specialised infrastructures is required to allow the cells to grow in a 3D physiology, to come close to its animal counterparts. As shared by ShiokMeats, there is limited infrastructure available in Singapore to be able to support a large scale production. And more infrastructure tends to mean more cost, which can really affect the P&L (profit and loss) of a company trying to commercialise their cultured meat. It then becomes a challenge of reducing the production cost by optimizing engineering processes, so that they can reasonably compete with existing meat alternatives in the market.

Another interesting point to note is that the timing of market penetration of cultured meat was crucial to its commercialisation too. Overcoming the technical aspect of biological engineering is one thing, but whether the market is ready to embrace the product is another thing. I think that the recent shift towards consumer awareness around sustainability around 2018 really played a big role in allowing companies like ShiokMeats and Impossible Foods to penetrate the food industry. People at this time are more accepting of clean meat alternatives and are also more willing to spend on it.

Lastly, countries like Singapore that have a limited locally produced food supply would really benefit the most from this biotechnology. It is quite encouraging to hear that the Singapore government is very supportive in this area, putting us one step closer to the goal of being self-sustainable.

I find that the biggest hurdle for this technology would be finding ways to significantly reduce the cost for it to be available to the masses. Right now only large to medium F&B chains are able to afford to put alternative meats into their menu. While the majority of other local F&B restauranteurs and even hawkers would not be as receptive, in order to keep prices low. This will always create a barrier for penetration if the prices of in-vitro meat remain as it is.