Would You Like Your Steak Printed Medium-Rare?
Epicure Magazine|April - May 2021
Food technology companies reinvent the food supply chain with plant-based proteins, cultured meats and 3D-printed meats. We take a look at how these industry disruptors give much food for thought beyond the whims of the palate.
Esther Faith Lew

Food technology companies are seeing the light of day and growing faster than the magic beans in Jack and the Beanstalk, with a significant number that have already either entered or made an impact on the market, with more to come that are still going through their Seed Rounds or Series As. Both international and local start-ups and companies are stirring up the pot with a staggering mix of offerings for consumers.

Whether it’s beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, lobster, milk or eggs, companies are offering alternative proteins for advocates of a plantbased diet and cultured meats grown in a lab. In our last issue, we covered many – though not exhaustive – brands that are now available. Since then, the developments have kept their momentum. The big boys are jumping in to either partner or fund the creative boys with their innovations. Singapore’s Float Foods has just received a grant from Temasek Foundation to commercialise OnlyEg, a plant-based whole egg substitute. Another local player, Shiok Meats, has reportedly raised US$12.6 million in Series A funding for its lab-grown shrimp, and one of its major shareholders is Seeds Capital, the investment arm of Enterprise Singapore. These examples show that this industry is a blue-eyed boy right now with the government paying close attention to nurturing these startups to unicorns and more. But more importantly, it begs the question “How will consumers react to these new product offerings and what is the potential demand that will arise from it?”

DRIVEN BY PALATE OR PURPOSE?

Food technology companies are visionary, yet they are also disruptors because of their aim to displace – and eventually replace – the traditional food supply chain. But the reason for their rapid growth and strong government support show that there is no smoke without a fire. The demand is there, and Asia is a market with much upward potential to be tapped into. A vast number of consumers on vegetarian diets are hungry for more options, and the generations of millennials and 20-somethings are also a voice to be heard as they are the ones who have thrown conventional brand loyalty out the window in favour of consumer behaviour that questions and distrusts. They resonate with brands that align with their beliefs and have a socio-environmental agenda for the better good of the planet.

So, plant-based proteins are on the highway to acceptance, especially those that are sustainably sourced. It may not win over all meat lovers, but new brands are gaining traction. What about meats that are grown in a science lab or printed by a 3D printer?

Will they be well received? Before you let your connoisseur side decide and dismiss them with disapproval, perhaps it is time to think long and hard about how we enjoy our food and the price we have to pay for that enjoyment. These innovations, whether we like it or not, serve a purpose by aiming to solve urgent social and environmental problems being faced today. What are they? Shall we begin with global deforestation caused by agriculture; greenhouse gas emissions caused by animal agriculture; or inhumane slaughtering of animals in commercial food manufacturing facilities?

However, it doesn’t mean that appreciation of a juicy A4 Miyazaki Wagyu ribeye, an umami blufin tuna sushi or a flavourful Poulet de Bresse is wrong. And there is no need to find plant-based substitutes for these cravings if you don’t want to. There is always the option of having real meat that has been sustainably sourced, cultivated and grown in a lab. The call to action for us is not as extreme as we think. Meat lovers can begin with mindful eating that moderates cravings with a flexitarian diet. Just by decreasing our intake of conventional meats, we can make a collective difference. This shift in mindset will trigger the behaviourial changes that will pave the way to acceptance, and all while the industry continues to refine their products and improve their taste and texture to please palates.

If current reviews are anything to go by, it would seem that Redefine Meat’s 3D-printed Alt-Steak and Eat Just’s Good Meat cultured chicken are gaining the acceptance of chefs. Even enjoying endangered bluefin tuna may no longer be an issue as California-based start-up Finless Foods is growing them in the lab. Of course, we would have to wait for the economies of scale to kick in before these companies cast a wider net of global distribution. Singapore is getting a head-start with the presence of Eat Just which is setting up a manufacturing facility here for its Just Egg, with plans to scale up for its Good Meat range of cultured meats. Its chicken range is already available at private club 1880 (find out what the chef has to say in our side story on p39), whose members represent the thinkers and innovators of our progressive society. Seafood lovers who are only all too aware of the ocean’s depleting resources will be happy to know that local start-up Shiok Meats has already moved on to cultured lobster after the success of its cultured shrimps.

WHAT’S STIRRING THE POT?

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