Back to all blogs

How cultivated meat can get a seat at the table


Fri, 01/12/2024 - 12:00


Today, despite there being over 150 companies involved in the cell-cultivated protein space, plant-based foods and fermentation-derived products continue to dominate in the space of alternative protein. Recently, the Singapore Agri-Food Innovation Lab (SAIL) and SGInnovate convened a panel of experts to discuss what it would take to take these companies to the global stage.  

JOIN: Our Deep Tech Central ecosystem and receive the latest updates on relevant networking events and discussions. 

At the panel discussion, "Why Should Deep Tech Care About Cell-Cultured Proteins", industry experts unpacked the trends and trajectory of this burgeoning sector. Discussion points included:  

  • Challenges and opportunities cell-cultivated startups face. 

  • Navigating regulatory framework. 

  • How to incentivise further innovation in the space.  

(L to R) Associate Professor Tan Lay Poh, Nanyang Technological University; Mr David Ettinger, Chief Representative for Keller and Heckman’s Shanghai office in China; Ms Neha Poddar, Partner, Good Startup; Mr Peter Yu, Program Director at the APAC Society for Cellular Agriculture. 

Slicing through the noise

While there has been a decline in global investments in alternative protein startups in 2022, the Asia-Pacific region still experienced a 43% year-over-year growth, totalling USD 562 million.  

Despite this positive outlook for alternative protein startups in the APAC region, Ms Poddar emphasised the importance of strategic positioning to tap into additional funding.

“Three adjacent sectors to alternative proteins – climate, biotechnology and agrifood – each receive ten times the amount of funding received by alternative proteins,” said Ms Poddar, referencing the overlap between these industries and cell-cultured protein startups. “There is no reason why this funding shouldn’t be available to alternative protein startups.”  

She also advised alternative protein startups to consider positioning themselves as a “climate tech solution”, rather than just a food or animal welfare solution. With livestock contributing to approximately a seventh of total annual greenhouse gas emissions globally, emphasising startups’ value in addressing broader climate goals can help tilt the investment landscape in their favour. 

READ: Reducing pressure on our oceans with cell cultivated fish

WATCH: SGInnovate's #TechItAway Series - Cultivated Fish Meat

With the limited resources that startups must work with, Ms Poddar emphasised the importance of focus. She recommended concentrating on specific areas that bolster startups’ Intellectual Property (IP) while collaborating with partners for the rest; not every aspect has to be handled in-house. This specialisation is natural as sectors mature. 

Panellists also advised startups to implement a robust market strategy from the outset to instil greater investor confidence. Key considerations to note in the process include: 

  • A product’s initial entry market. 

  • An eventual market expansion plan. 

  • Regulatory application processes. 

  • Timelines.  

Each iteration in the project lifecycle will impact approval processes. 

A globally growing appetite

Choosing markets with favourable regulatory environments and incentives will act as a strong launchpad. Mr Yu highlighted Singapore as an exemplary case, citing the synergy between government regulations and the broader ecosystem that has facilitated a conducive environment for startups to drive innovations in the sector forward.  

Some countries with existing regulatory frameworks for novel foods are adapting these frameworks for pre-market assessment of cultivated proteins, thereby lowering market entry barriers for companies. 

"You can make the greatest product in the world,” said Mr Ettinger, “But if there is no process for you to market it, you are going to reach a standstill.” He emphasised the importance of securing pilot product approvals in countries with established regulatory systems to ensure smoother entry to any subsequent markets that may not have such frameworks. 

Equally critical to selecting the entry market is understanding the variations in testing protocols between countries. In Singapore, a stage-by-stage approval system is employed, where data from each testing event determines subsequent approvals.

In contrast, the Netherlands adopts a batch approval approach lasting 12 months, providing more flexibility. On the other hand, the United States has less defined procedures, placing more liability on consumers who must sign waivers. 

Mr Ettinger also raised the need for countries to take a more harmonised approach when establishing international frameworks to ease the process for startups trying to obtain regulatory approvals.  

“Oftentimes, you’ll see companies get it (the product) right in the R&D phase,” he said, “then they go to the regulators, and they realise they have one or more ingredients that are not going to pass safety. Now they’ve got to go back to the drawing board.” 

Beyond the regulatory front, panellists raised the need for continued consumer education and clear nomenclature when labelling cell-cultivated meat to clarify confusion about how products are made.

READ: Making cultivated meat a reality: Q&A with Umami Bioworks CEO Mihir Pershad 

Recipe for success

Singapore’s position as a global leader in cell-cultivated meat has been largely attributed to three key pillars, as the panellists put it – R&D and co-innovation between research institutes and multinationals, end-to-end production capabilities, and ease of product launch and market access.  

Yet, as the industry evolves, Mr Yu emphasised that Singapore will need to work on an even greater “level of interoperability between the frameworks". Looking ahead, he believes internal coordination in academia is crucial for talent sourcing and development in the sector.  

Streamlining research and development efforts is equally vital, contributing to both scientific advancements and overall industry growth. Optimising approval processes, including establishing a dedicated nationwide safety testing platform, would help expedite regulatory clearances and support an efficient innovation ecosystem. 

Despite Singapore’s small population posing commercial challenges, Mr Ettinger encourages startups to recognise the value Singapore brings as a springboard to obtain clearance before expanding into other markets.  

Other factors needed to bring cell-cultivated meat products to market include making a good product through rigorous R&D, getting products cleared by regulators and consumer buy-in. But most principally, the product needs to taste good.  

“On the plant-based side,” said Mr Ettinger, “I’ve seen a lot of companies spend a lot of time and money making a plant-based product.” However, consumers seem to expect more from the companies to further optimize the taste before they would include plant-based food into their daily diet. 

He strongly urged startups to form partnerships and collaborate closely with chefs and restaurants to create delicious-tasting products that will appeal to customers.

“If you can align these stars, which is not an easy task,” he said, “then you will likely be able to go wherever you want to go.”  

Explore SGInnovate’s latest happenings and upcoming events here.     


Shifting gears: Driving green mobility with innovation and collaboration

Dec 18, 2023


What’s next for the future of food tech?

Jan 17, 2024