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Opportunities for food technology providers in cultivated food industry

Pallevi Srivastva, Ph.D., Lead Scientist, Head of Cell Culture Media & Process Development, Wild Type, Inc.
Pallevi Srivastva, Ph.D., Lead Scientist, Head of Cell Culture Media & Process Development, Wild Type, Inc.

Pallevi Srivastva, Ph.D., Lead Scientist, Head of Cell Culture Media & Process Development, Wild Type, Inc.

The annual global demand for seafood per capita has more than doubled over the last 50 years, from 10 kilograms in 1960 to 20 kilograms in 2014 (FAO). Commensurate increases in supply have come primarily from aquaculture, which produced 53% of seafood for human consumption in 20161. The fish we eat today either comes from the wild (wild-caught) or is raised on a farm (aquaculture). However, both of these sources have constraints. Wild catch is limited due to dwindling populations of fish in our oceans, and aquaculture is constrained by suitable coastal regions 1. Given these supply constraints, how will the fishing and aquaculture industries sustainably meet demand over the next generation?

Cultivated, or “cell-based” seafood offers one potential new source of supply. This method of production involves growing fish or crustacean cells in large brewery-style fermenters. These cells are then organized into muscle, fat, and connective tissue, and finally harvested and packaged for consumption 2, 3. This article outlines a value chain for the cultivated seafood and meat industry, and highlights opportunities for food technology companies looking to harness the growing consumer demand for sustainable, healthy foods.

Figure 1 proposes a value chain that will be required to bring cultivated seafood to market at scale. This is not intended to be exhaustive, but rather to identify the breadth of disciplines and capabilities that will be required to support this emerging field.

1 The state of world fisheries and aquaculture. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (2018)

2 Meet the new meat: tissue engineered skeletal muscle, Langelaan et al. (2010)

3 Cellular agriculture: an extension of common production methods for food; Valentin Waschulin & Liz Specht, The Good Food Institute (2018)

Most companies working on this technology employ fewer than 30 people. As such, the ability to develop deep expertise and differentiated capabilities is limited to a few core areas. The value chain is color-coded to highlight those areas in which today’s cultivated seafood and meat companies are building the deepest capabilities. The green boxes indicate those capabilities where nearly all early-stage companies are building the deepest expertise. Orange boxes are those in which several companies have invested considerable resources. The white boxes are those that will be required for the industry to scale, but in which today’s cellular agriculture companies have not made considerable investment.

These areas represent opportunities for food technology companies to develop products and services to support the cultivated seafood industry.

Figure 2 highlights three of the white space opportunities and provides a few ideas for products and services that cultivated seafood and meat companies need today, or will need in the very near future.. Several company logos are provided to indicate potential partners that could assist with a particular stage of the value chain.

While a comprehensive review of each stage of the value chain is beyond the scope of this article, let’s cover just one stage-raw materials and supply chain, as an example. Creating an efficient nutrient formulation for the cultivation of cells is one of the most important research areas for the entire cultivated seafood and meat industry. Similar to conventional aquaculture, where fish feed represents one of the most significant input costs, cell feed will have a significant impact on cultivated seafood marginal costs. While identifying the right mix of amino acids, salts, and sugars will likely be done in- house by most cultivated food companies, the production of raw materials for the creation of these Formulations could be fulfilled by any large-scale animal nutrient supplier such as Buhler and Cargill. Indeed, any food company with an animal nutrition division could become a significant supplier to the cultivated seafood and meat industry. Alternatively, cultured seafood products could also be used as a food ingredient for companies such as Japan’s Ajinomoto or Thailand’s Charoen Pokphand.

Consumer food preferences are undergoing a significant change as consumers are increasingly demanding healthy and sustainably-produced foods. The food production industry must quickly adapt to these developing consumer needs. While cultivated seafood and meat represents one potential solution to these evolving consumer preferences, building the technology will require many new partners, and we are excited to explore these with a wide range of companies.

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