UPSIDE Foods aims to disrupt the meat industry with its cultivated chicken.
The Berkeley, California–based company uses “real animal cells,” not plant-based protein like Beyond Meat (BYND) and Impossible Foods, to create its product, CEO Dr. Uma Valeti explains.
“This is chicken cells that are growing into meat, so we expect it to be positioned in a supermarket or a grocery aisle right where meat products are sold, whether it’s frozen aisles or refrigerated or fresh, not next to vegetarian products because this is not vegetarian.”
Founded in 2015 by the cardiologist turned CEO Dr. Uma Valeti, UPSIDE Foods recently received FDA approval for consumers to eat the lab-grown chicken filet. He hopes this will allow the product to hit shelves “really soon.”
As far as price point for the option, Valeti says it is the company’s “aspirational goal at the moment is to beat the conventional prices,” but it won’t happen right away.
“Initially, we’re going to start out with premium pricing when we come into the market … That’s because we are on a small scale. Our labor force is really very highly educated and requires a lot of time to put together the product that we put on the market. But in time, we expect our products to be at parity with conventional meat, but that’s going to be 5 to 15 years away.”
The FDA approval was key to kick off production at its facility in California too, which it calls the Engineering, Production, and Innovation Center (EPIC), which has the capability to produce 50,000 pounds of meat.
“We are not producing it at that level because we’ve been waiting for the FDA green light to start production processes, but we’re doing a lot of learning and continue to update our technology and it’s moving at such a pace that we need an innovation center like this to continuously update not only the hardware and how the meat is made, but also the feed that we feed our animal cells.”
This is one step toward UPSIDE Foods’ larger goal to provide sustainable meat, poultry and seafood options. As a result of rapid evolution in the technology used to develop its products, Valeti says the equipment developed in 2019 is already outdated. That’s not stopping the company from its hefty goals ahead.
“We’re now in the process of looking for the right location to build a production facility that is about 50 times larger than EPIC and is capable of producing something in the range of [10 to 20 million pounds] of product every year, and we are looking for it actively … We hope that states will reach out to us to put our facility in their region.”
UPSIDE Foods recently closed a $400 million Series C, which brings it to a $1 billion valuation. So far, the company has raised a total of $608 million, including from sustainability advocates Bill Gates, Kimbal and Christiana Musk, and Richard Branson, in addition to funding from companies like Tyson Foods. It also has a partnership with Dominique Crenn, a three-Michelin starred chef.