Memphis Meats, a tech startup based in the Bay Area, announced today that it has begun production of the world's first "clean" chicken and duck meat—and they're not talking about giving some run-of-the-mill poultry a nice, soapy bath.
The stuff, which was unveiled at a press event yesterday, is called "clean" because the meat is produced directly from self-reproducing cells, without the need to feed, breed, or slaughter animals. It's also known as "cultured" or "in vitro" meat. David Kay, a business analyst at Memphis Meats, told MUNCHIES: "We were really excited to just yesterday reveal these products to the world. We've been working on the chicken strip for a few months now. Besides the chicken strip, the dish we prepared yesterday was inspired by duck à l'orange. It was really delicious."
With respect to its future offerings, Kay told us, "We're working on several different poultry products, many of them have not been publicly unveiled yet, but I can say we plan to enter market with products that play on classic American staples."
This is the same company that announced the production of the world's first "clean meatball"—made from bovine cells, of course—last year. You may recall that the meatball made waves because it was initially said to cost $1,000—per ball. Kay explained that the price of clean meat is the biggest hurdle the company faces: "We've seen some pretty significant leaps on that front in recent months and years, so we are definitely encouraged by that. When we first enter market we will likely be at a slight price premium, but as we scale, we expect to ultimately be cost competitive with conventionally produced poultry."
Memphis Meats was founded by three scientists—Uma Valeti, Nicholas Genovese and Will Clem—and has already raised more than $3 million in funding. The world's first lab-grown hamburger was revealed on August 5, 2013, thanks to the work of scientists from Maastricht University in the Netherlands, who took stem cells from a cow, grew them on strips of muscle, and made a burger out of the resulting beef.
Memphis Meats told MUNCHIES that the company's technology allows it to fine-tune taste, texture, and nutrition profile. Furthermore, lab-grown chicken skirts the "huge problems for the environment, animal welfare, and human health" associated with conventional breeding. Clean chicken is grown "humanely" in stainless steel bioreactor tanks and the cultivation involves no grain, no water, and no waste.
The problems associated with meat production are international, so Kay says Memphis Meats' mission is an international one: "I can't get into too much detail, in part because these are conversations we're still having, but both the economic and social mission with modern meat production are not unique to the United States. We are very interested in having a global presence beyond just our national borders. Exactly what that will look like is something I can't talk about right now."
When asked why food technology companies specializing in lab-grown meat have up until now largely focused on producing beef—even though chicken is the most popular protein in the US—Kay told MUNCHIES, "I know there are certainly technological obstacles that we were able to overcome, which is why this is such an exciting unveiling, but I can't speak for other groups at to why nobody else had produced this so far. We're pretty excited to be leading this movement."
Don't get too excited, though. Memphis Meats says you won't be able to sink your teeth into a lab-grown bird until 2021, at the earliest. The issue comes down to cost: "The goal is to eventually be even more affordable than conventionally produced meat," Kay said. "But that won't be right at 2021; it will likely take a few years."
And when MUNCHIES asked Kay if Memphis Meats planned to first launch their range of poultry products to select markets or restaurants—like Impossible Foods did for its plant-based burger—he said, "Those are conversations we're still having. There are a lot of different options to consider, so it will depend on a few things."
Sounds as though it will be a while before the rest of us get to taste our very first bite of clean, lab-grown poultry. But at least this gives us a little bite of what we can expect.