Industrial Manufacturing
Industrial Manufacturing
Scale: the final frontier
Cultivated meat companies have made incredible scientific progress; Now it's time to solve scale
Yossi Quint
September 27, 2023

There’s been a lot written about cultivated meat recently. TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal, and Wired have all reported on the challenges facing the industry. But what these articles, and so many of cultivated meat’s critics ignore is: the science is there. The industry is on the precipice of mass adoption - we just need to figure out scale-up.

Companies have made tremendous scientific progress, including bringing media costs way below that of biopharma, while achieving incredible yields. The science behind cultivated meat has been solved and unit economics are competitive with premium products.

But, the industry is facing a new challenge, an engineering challenge, scale. Biopharma’s approach to scale is a dead end for the industry. No set of incremental changes will solve this - we need to re-envision biomanufacturing and drastically reduce CapEx. At Ark, that’s been our north star since Day 1 and we’ve made incredible progress.

Cultivated meat companies have accomplished incredible scientific feats

Cultivated meat has made incredible progress.
✅ Delicious product
✅ Regulatory approval
✅ Cheap media
✅ Great yields

Companies are hitting home-run after home-run when it comes to scientific progress. For the leading companies, the science is there. Sure, it can be improved, but it’s there.

Unit economics are in a great place and will only improve

Cultivated meat companies have made incredible progress bringing down media costs and achieving great yields.

For example, companies who are able to achieve media costs of $1-1.5/liter can be competitive with grass-fed and organic products (representing billions of dollars of product sold or multiple percentage points of total market) or premium products like bluefin tuna and wagyu beef. If companies blend their cultivated meat with plant-based protein to create hybrid products, the products can be competitive with a wider range of products. 

Cultivated meat can compete with traditional animal protein, especially when cultivated meat products are blended with plant protein

[For a more in-depth discussion of path to price parity see Ark’s techno-economic analysis]

Scale is the last big problem that needs solving

The U.S. has approved the sale of cultivated meat, companies have made tremendous scientific progress, but consumers aren’t seeing cultivated meat on their dinner plates - yet. That’s because of one big challenge: scale. TechCrunch, the Wall Street Journal, and Wired have all reported on and made references to this massive challenge recently. Specifically, how to scale up at an affordable price tag.

There are two main challenges at play: (1) an engineering challenge of producing at mass quantities, and (2) a financing challenge of paying for massive factories.

In other words, we need to de-risk the journey to large scale production and figure out how to make factories cheaper.

Today’s approach to scale-up is based on the biopharma playbook: stirred tank bioreactors that are tricky to scale, human-centered decisions that are imperfect, and a lot of trial-and-error, which is expensive and time consuming. 

What works in biopharma simply won't work for food. The gap is too large. No set of incremental improvements can bridge the gap between CapEx for biopharma and CapEx for food. What we need is step change improvements, radical reinvention of biomanufacturing, and a willingness to be imaginative and daring.

We’ve solved the scientific problem. Now we need to tackle the engineering problem - how to produce large quantities at a low cost.

We’ve solved scale

At Ark, we’ve been focused on scale since day one. And we’ve solved it. 

We’ve reimagined the factory to cut out 65%+ of upstream costs. We call this new plant - Factory 2.0. At the center of Factory 2.0 are our novel bioreactors capable of scaling to millions of liters. These commodity scale bioreactors are 90% cheaper than the biggest bioreactor in the world and equipped with intelligent decision making that can double yield - further improving unit economics. And, Factory 2.0 is food-grade. No more clean rooms. 

Cultivated meat will reach the masses. We just need to lean into novel solutions to get there.

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