You would know a chicken nugget if you saw one, right? How about one who grew out of a single cell and didn’t injure any animals in the process?

Josh Tetrick doesn’t bet.

He’s trying to win over consumers with his lab-grown chicken bite after his company’s first ever approval of his company’s cultured chicken was granted in Singapore in late 2020.

“We have the freedom to sell across Singapore, whether it’s retail, hospitality or street vendors,” Tetrick told CNBC Make It.

Starting with an egg

Tetrick is the founder and CEO of Eat Just, the Californian food start-up responsible for bringing the world’s first laboratory-raised chicken to the table.

The landmark approval for human consumption could potentially disrupt industrial animal farms. But when Tetrick started in 2011, that idea was a pipe dream.

The idea was … to start a food company that would take the animal, the living animal, out of the equation of the food system.

Josh Tetrick

Founder and CEO of Eat Just

“I had less than $ 3,000 in my bank account and the idea was, we’re going to start a food company that will take the animal, the live animal, out of the equation of the food system,” he said.

Tetrick, who started his career with nonprofits in sub-Saharan Africa, wanted to fix what he saw as one of the world’s biggest problems: food sustainability.

And for him the egg came first.

“We decided we could find a way to turn a plant into an egg, a hen’s egg,” he said. “All I knew then was that there were 375,000 species of plants in the world, and I bet one of them could crawl like an egg.”

Winning investor support

Investors liked his vision. Shortly after it was founded, billionaire Vinod Khosla and his business partner Samir Kaul were on board and invested $ 500,000 in the idea.

“That was enough to get me off the couch,” said Tetrick. “I’ve started hiring food scientists, biochemists, molecular biologists, analytical chemists, and chefs.”

JUST Egg, a plant-based egg substitute from the Californian food company Eat Just.

Just eat

Years later, the team experimented with mung beans – a protein-rich legume that is widely used in Asian cuisine. And in 2018 Eat Just’s first product, Just Egg, was born.

To date, the company has sold the equivalent of 100 million eggs made from plants at large retailers like Walmart, Whole Food Markets, and Alibaba.

But the egg was just the beginning.

What we wanted to do next was real chicken and beef but not from plants.

Josh Tetrick

Founder and CEO of Eat Just

“What we wanted to do next was real chicken and beef, but not from plants,” said Tetrick.

“Real chicken and real beef that didn’t require an animal to be killed, that didn’t require a single drop of antibiotics. And that’s, by and large, a process known as cellular agriculture.”

How to make cultured meat

The process of making cultured meat begins with a cell. In this case from a chicken.

It can be taken from either a live bird through a biopsy, a fresh piece of meat, a cell bank, or the root of a feather. This cell is then fed nutrients such as those found in soy and corn before they are allowed to mature in a large steel jar.

Cultured meat is made by extracting a single cell from an animal, either through a biopsy, cell bank, piece of meat, or a feather.

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The process takes about 14 days from start to finish, and the end product is raw ground beef.

Making the cell cultured meat product was the easy part. The harder part was obtaining regulatory approvals, which took two years.

Towards the end of 2020, Singapore became the first country to approve Eat Just’s flagship chicken nuggets for sale nationwide under the Good Meat brand.

The chicken nugget is available now at the 1880 restaurant in Singapore and costs around $ 17 for a set meal. More restaurants in the city-state are expected to come on board in the coming months.

Singapore takes the world’s first bite

Eat Just’s Asia-Pacific headquarters and its first factory in Asia are located in Singapore. The company is also considering making Singapore its global manufacturing base for Good Meat.

While the island nation – which is slightly smaller than New York City – seems like an unlikely location for a global meat production facility, Aileen Supriyadi, senior research analyst at Euromonitor International, said several factors play a role.

As a hub in Asia, Singapore is actually helping these companies export to other countries.

Aileen Supriyadi

Senior Research Analyst at Euromonitor International

“Singapore has the 30 by 30 initiative, so the country wants to have 30% of its food produced locally (by 2030),” she told CNBC Make It.

“Singapore can also use the scientific findings, especially stem cell research. And Singapore, as a hub in Asia, actually helps these companies to export and sell their products to other countries.”

Revolutionizing animal husbandry

Chickens stored indoors in a meat production facility

WOJTEK RADWANSKI | AFP | Getty Images

Meanwhile, an estimated 50 billion chickens are slaughtered for food each year. Broader agriculture is responsible for 10 to 12% of greenhouse gas emissions – a major contributor to climate change.

However, not everyone is behind the cultivated mania for meat. Some are still skeptical of its nutritional value and suitability for human consumption, while the environmental and social effects remain to be seen.

However, Tetrick claims the process is cleaner and more ethical than traditional farming.

Industrialized animal production is probably the strangest and most bizarre thing that happens. They are just not aware of it.

Josh Tetrick

Founder and CEO of Eat Just

Then there are those who just find the concept strange.

“I tell them that industrialized livestock production is probably the strangest and bizarre occurrence. They just don’t realize it. If there is a way we can do better, let’s strive for it,” Tetrick said.

Growing appetite for alternatives

Indeed, the demand for alternative meat products such as cultured or vegetable meat appears to be growing.

One report estimated that the alternative meat market could be worth $ 140 billion, or 10% of the world’s meat industry, within a decade.

The alternative meat industry is expected to be worth $ 140 billion by 2029.

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“It’s actually pretty big in the Asia-Pacific region,” Supriyadi said of alternative meat. “In 2020 the market size itself has reached about $ 800 million. Potentially with a lower price and higher knowledge, consumers will be more interested in buying alternative meat products. “

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are among the names that are making waves in the vegetable meat space, while brands like Memphis Meats use cultural products. Tetrick said he welcomed the competition.

“I want companies to help solve the problem,” he said. “I hope someone … decides I can do better than this guy who had no experience with food technology before he started.”

Preparation for globalization

Disruption of the dominance of the established animal husbandry industry, however, will not happen overnight.

“The limiting steps to ultimately making this ubiquitous are regulatory approval, scope and consumer education,” noted Tetrick. “We can’t just focus on one, we have to focus on all three.”

At some point we will decide to go public. This will not happen without a lot of capital, there is no getting around it.

Josh Tetrick

Founder and CEO of Eat Just

Eat Just has raised over $ 400 million from investors, including Khosla Ventures, Founders Fund, Bill Gates’ Gate Ventures, and Singapore-based Temasek, according to Tetrick. The company is now aiming for $ 2 billion in funding.

“We will continue to raise more capital,” he said. “At some point we will decide to go public – we want to achieve operational profitability first. This will not be done without a lot of capital, there is no getting around it.”

However, with Eat Just seeking regulatory approval in more countries, Tetrick is sure the bet will pay off.

“You have to take a leap of faith every day, right?” he said. “We pretend the US will approve it at some point. We pretend Europe will approve it at some point.”

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