I’d like to share some of my own thoughts on the Cultured Meat Symposium. First off, you should understand that my work and family lives are quite similar, unlike Steve’s, in that both worlds are all about meat. I’m from a family of cattle producers who depend on animal meat production for their livelihood. I’m still involved in our cattle operation in North Dakota, and you know that our focus at Midan is on supporting meat industry participants from farm to fork.
Bottom line: I’m passionate about meat, so my emotions ran high as I sat through two days of presentations about efforts to create a new category of meat protein – yes it actually is meat protein – to replace “real” meat. It was tough to listen to negative and at times flat out false comments about meat production. Many of the speakers are driven by their animal rights advocacy and don’t want to hear about the care that livestock producers take in raising their animals. My family and others who raise livestock for food not only ensure the well-being of the animals because their livelihood depends on it, but also because they take very seriously their responsibility to be good stewards of these animals while they are in their charge.
At the time of the conference there were at least 50 companies world-wide involved in research to develop cultured meat products. Their reasons range from animal welfare and the environment to health and wellness concerns. Others believe this technology is a significant financial opportunity that could help feed 10 billion consumers by 2050. We heard various predictions from different speakers, but it could be as soon as 2-3 years when we see the first actual meat protein products offered to consumers commercially.
Despite the fact that the arrival of these products is imminent, it isn’t all smooth sailing. There are still some regulatory hurdles to overcome in the U.S. in order to sell cultured meat products, although the producing companies are savvy enough to have developed a coalition to work together to get them approved. It sounds like the first offering of these products will most likely be in other countries like Japan where regulatory requirements are not as stringent.
Another major challenge will be scaling up production to a commercial level in a cost-efficient way; however, many companies are making significant advances in this area, and it is believed that the cost of some products could be as little as $10 per pound by 2022. And last but not least, I believe, is consumer acceptance. While it may be difficult to believe that consumers would actually be comfortable eating a protein that was “created” in such an artificial way, Midan’s research shows that 45% of consumers say they might be willing to try these products. That’s significant. But then we all know that it’s one thing to try a new product, but quite another to become a loyal and regular consumer of that product. Form could also be a significant obstacle; I for one have no interest in giving up my favorite bone-in ribeye for something that doesn’t look or perform anything close to what I enjoy in a meat-eating experience.
Prepare yourselves. Our competition for share of the dinner plate will continue to get hotter. While I believe both plant-based and cell-based meats are going to be a part of our future, I also believe that there is going to be continued demand for the meat my family raises on our ranch and the meat our clients work so hard to produce and market to consumers. We are going to have to start acting like we want to be a survivor though. These new alternatives are like a shiny new penny; 38% of consumers who said they would be willing to try them said it was because they are a “new and exciting” alternative. Others say they would try them because they believe they are better for the environment (35%) and for animals (35%). From a health perspective to easing concerns about animal welfare and the environment, these products are promoting some powerful messages. We need to focus on our own compelling story of what we bring to the table: nutritional value, animal care, sustainable production practices, the safest food products in the world, and flavor and texture that can’t be duplicated in a lab.
There’s room for healthy competition in protein, especially when it causes an industry to elevate its game to remain the product of choice. We can do this, but we must start now, before cultured proteins hit the meat case and the restaurant plate and these formidable competitors try to run away with our consumers. I for one am planning that my family will be raising cattle that provide the highest quality protein to feed a growing world population for generations to come.