Alternative Proteins & Lab Based Meats Need Investors To Get Them Out Of The Lab

Interest in lab-based meat and other alternative proteins is growing, but the industry needs investment to take innovation from the laboratory to the mass market.

Fabian Erici, Investment Manager at Stockholm-based venture capital fund Norrsken VC, explains why the investment is needed and the impact it could have…

There is a saying that you try food for the first time because it is novel, the second because it tastes good, and a third time because it is good value. If consumers don’t think it is worth the money, no new food will take off. This is what the foodtech industry faces with its alternative proteins: they are unique, they taste good, but the price point just isn’t there yet.

Plant-based alternatives to meat are already on their way to reaching the mass market, but other protein alternatives – such as lab-grown meat – have been too expensive for the average consumer. Back in 2013, the first cultivated meat (which was created with cells from a live animal and grown in a lab) was introduced to food experts in London.

The burger they ate was certainly novel, and they said it tasted good. But getting the meat to that point had required an investment of US$330,000.

And now, moving this kind of meat to the restaurant table is becoming a reality. It has been served in Singapore since 2020, and in Israel since 2021, but still, it is a novelty and too expensive for most consumers.

The early stages of innovation in lab-grown meat, and precision fermentation, have been successful. Now we need to shift from ‘if it can be done’ to ‘how to do it at scale’.

This investment will not only deliver financial returns, but also an opportunity to have a positive impact on a large scale. This is good news for impact investors like Norrsken VC, which is looking for the next impact unicorn – a company that has the potential to positively impact 1 billion people. Alternative proteins address the most pressing sustainability issues in our food ecosystem: they use less land, fewer carbon emissions, and there is no need to cart animals to the slaughterhouse.

And there are predictions that our oceans will be fishless by 2050; we need to find alternatives.

Awareness of plant-based alternatives has already grown exponentially. And we are hearing that customers of companies like Collectiv Food – a next-generation food supply service – are increasingly asking about other alternative proteins.

We have already witnessed the success of start-ups like Bluu Seafood, which has cultivated seafood from fish cells, but this is still a niche product. For this, and other innovations, to reach the mass market investment needs to go into the technology to scale it up.

Lab-grown meat may have been cultivated in a small bioprocessor tank but taking it to industrial-size tanks is challenging. Much of this technology was initially developed for the pharmaceutical industry, where the economics of low volumes and high cost can make sense. For meat alternatives, however, more development is needed to take the processes from the lab setting to industrial tanks. Now is the right time to invest in taking alternative proteins out of the lab.

Early movers – like Bluu Seafood – have already shown it can be done. Now is the time to do it at scale.