SINGAPORE: San Francisco-based Eat Just said Singapore will be its Asia headquarters and potentially its global manufacturing hub, the meat and egg substitute maker’s chief executive and co-founder Josh Tetrick said on Monday (Dec 21).
“Singapore for us will be at a minimum the base for Asia,” Mr Tetrick said during a video interview at a media event for its cultured chicken product. “And we're considering Singapore as the hub for global manufacturing of what we call our brand’s Good Meat, (with) a facility or two in Western Europe and a facility or two in North America.”
“I am hopeful that the US and Western Europe will follow the lead of Singapore in providing a regulatory environment,” he added.
After getting the green light from Singapore authorities to sell its lab-grown chicken product in November, the company plans to scale up its investments in Singapore from 2021, he said. He expects to hire process engineers, product developers, analytical chemists and food scientists.
“I don't know off the top of my head exactly the number of jobs as it relates to it. But just imagine a large manufacturing environment, running optimally for us 24/7 days a week with company support lab … we think it's an important way to generate jobs.”
Cultured chicken has been touted as the future of meat and a solution to unsustainable livestock farming and animal cruelty. The meat is also supposedly safer as it is made in a sanitary laboratory environment, reducing the risk of zoonotic outbreaks.
A 2019 report by Barclays predicted that the global alternative meat market, currently valued at US$14 billion - or 1 per cent of the US$1.4 trillion meat industry - could be worth 10 times more at about US$140 billion by 2029.
Eat Just received the world’s first regulatory approval to sell lab-grown meat commercially last month from the Singapore Food Agency, after applying for it two years ago. And in October, it announced it would be partnering private equity firm Proterra Investment Partners Asia to build a US$120 million plant-protein factory in Singapore that is expected to break ground in the first quarter of 2021.
Eat Just last week announced its cultured chicken nuggets will make its global commercial debut at 1880, a private member’s club at Robertson Quay. The nuggets are priced at S$23 and served initially as a two-dish combo - chicken and waffles on one plate, and chicken on a Chinese steamed bun on the other.
It will be sold at other food establishments in Singapore next year, and in retail stores by mid- or late-2022.
Developing the infrastructure and safety protocols to create the lab-grown chicken took about two years, Mr Tetrick said. But now that the technology is ready, it takes 14 days to produce it, shorter than the 45-odd days it takes for traditional chicken to go from birth to slaughter.
Mr Tetrick said this form of lab-grown chicken - a minced chicken product akin to the texture of nuggets sold at fast food restaurants - is just “stage one”. As its processes improve, it hopes to produce a more “highly texturised” chicken with fat and muscle characteristics in two to three years.
The third stage would be to create a chicken wing, bones and cartilage included.
The startup also plans to produce other forms of its current lab-grown chicken - for example, as a piece of breast - by early next year, subject to approval from Singapore regulators.
Mr Tetrick said the ultimate goal of Eat Just is to make cell-based meat that is cheaper than its traditional counterparts, and to normalise its consumption to the point where its “cultured” label is dropped - hopefully as more people and food establishments become comfortable eating and serving it.
The company is also working on creating both lab-grown beef and pork. It is likely to be able to produce a minced beef product by the end of next year, Mr Tetrick said.
Eat Just, valued at US$1.2 billion and backed by the likes of Temasek Holdings and billionaire Li Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures, aims to turn an operating profit by end-2021 and could go public after that, Mr Tetrick previously said.