By SGN | 17 May 2023
What made a foodtech founder from Birmingham, Alabama, traverse the globe and launch his groundbreaking product in Singapore?
For Josh, it’s been a long journey – one full of bumps and unexpected twists – since he began the search for sustainable protein alternatives more than a decade ago. It all started with one dream: to help revolutionise the global food system and steer it away from industrial agriculture that is inflicting serious damage on our environment.
Growing up, Josh ate a diet heavy on meat and eggs. But influenced by his best friend and future co-founder, Josh Balk, he learnt about the ills of factory farming – the inhumane treatment of animals, the consumption of enormous resources, the generation of massive emissions – and eventually turned vegan.
“It was really my best friend who opened up my eyes to all the environmental issues,” he says. Fuelled by their common ambition, the pair started a company in 2011. This was the first incarnation of Eat Just, and it marked the beginning of a foodtech revolution.
A chicken and egg problem
Their first quest was to develop a plant-based substitute for eggs, one of the most common foods on the planet, the demand for which has led to the raising of billions of chickens in cruel, overcrowded conditions.
Six years and millions in funding later, the San Francisco-based team of chefs, scientists and engineers finally managed to refine the product’s taste and texture and manufacture it on a commercial scale. After exploring various sources of plant protein, they found that mung beans – the legume often used in Asia to make sweet soups, ground into a paste or germinated into bean sprouts – were the best option.
“We learned how to isolate the protein from mung beans and make a really compelling product called JUST Egg that’s now in two million households,” Josh says.
For their next challenge, the company decided to tackle meat, starting with chicken. But instead of going plant-based, they ventured into cellular agriculture, or the science of cultivating meat from cells. “We’re big fans of plant-based meat. However, we also recognise that making real meat would appeal strongly to consumers,” Josh explains.
In a process that takes three to four weeks, animal cells are multiplied in a growth medium within a series of vessels, then harvested and moulded into fillets, strips, nuggets and other familiar forms. Compared to conventional poultry farming, cultivated chicken is slaughter-free and forgoes hormones and antibiotics. According to some estimates, it cuts land use and carbon footprint by 90% and reduces water use by two-thirds.
By 2018, development of GOOD Meat cultured chicken had made good progress, and the company had securely entered unicorn territory, yet their product still lacked one critical ingredient: regulatory approval.
GOOD Meat is slaughter-free meat that is cultivated from cells in a growth medium.
Setting their sights on Singapore
One of Eat Just’s early investors, back when the firm was known as Hampton Creek, was Temasek. “That’s how I personally became familiar with Singapore,” Josh says, “going back and forth from the US to meet with them.”
The country left a lasting impression on him. “Singapore is an incredibly forward-thinking country that’s building for the future. I think it’s beautiful how the city is so advanced yet really embedded in nature,” he observes.
Very quickly, he also noticed how the country was developing a food sector that was ahead of its time. “It came to a point where we thought, if we’re going to apply for regulatory approval, it probably should be in Singapore, because other countries don’t seem ready.”
When that approval was granted in November 2020, GOOD Meat became the world’s first cultivated meat to be greenlit for sale and consumption. “It was one of the most important moments in the food ecosystem,” Josh says. “And professionally, it’s probably the accomplishment that I’m the most proud of.”
After attaining regulatory approval, GOOD Meat was launched across hawkers (Loo’s Hainanese Curry Rice, Keng Eng Kee Seafood), restaurants (Madame Fan, 1880) and retail (Huber’s Butchery) in Singapore.
In partnership with the Singapore Pavilion at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, Eat Just presented a three-course menu to media and dignitaries, serving GOOD Meat outside Singapore for the first time.
Achieving price parity by 2027
The next stage of Eat Just’s foodtech revolution hinges on scaling production. A $45 million facility in the east of Singapore – set to become operational in 2023 – will be Asia’s biggest and house the world’s largest bioreactor for cultivated meat. The plant is Eat Just’s first outside America and will likely make Singapore the global manufacturing headquarters for GOOD Meat.
In yet another world’s first, the company has received Singapore’s approval for producing serum-free cultivated meat. This breakthrough, years in the making, eliminates the need for animal-derived nutrients to enable cell growth. “It was a real challenging technical milestone that we achieved,” Josh notes, “replacing serum with a growth medium of amino acids, sugar and salt.”
“The food technology space in Singapore is really exciting,” he says. “There are so many companies in the scene, and we believe that competition and innovation is helpful to all players. The ecosystem being built there is one of the best in the world.”
Along with efforts to increase cell density (i.e. the number of cells produced), larger vessels and serum-free media will help to boost yield and drive down costs. By 2027, Eat Just anticipates cultivated meat reaching price parity with conventional meat, which will grant greater global access to ethical and sustainable eating.
In the meantime, the firm is also looking to expand its market reach and product range. JUST Egg has entered international markets such as Korea and China, GOOD Meat has gained approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, and the team is working on future offerings. “Beef will be next,” Josh reveals, adding that consumers can look forward to cultivated ground beef and steaks from Eat Just in due time.
“Eventually – just like a lot of technologies that get progressively cheaper, higher-quality and more widely available – alternative protein won’t be alternative anymore. It’ll be the majority protein.”
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Josh Tetrick is CEO and co-founder of San Francisco-based foodtech company Eat Just, which created JUST Egg, a plant-based egg brand, and GOOD Meat, the world’s first-to-market meat made from animal cells instead of slaughtered livestock.
Connect with him here.