But what is the motivation, exactly, from a company such as Meatable which operates entirely off the back of its “fake real-meat” foundations? It all boils down to costs, and getting things to market more quickly. Cultivated meat is expensive to develop in a lab setting, and critics argue that there is little to suggest it will be affordable enough to scale at any meaningful level in the near future. On top of that, there are significant regulatory barriers (even in Singapore where it is approved for consumption), not to mention the mental barriers associated with eating meat grown in a lab.
So by meshing cultured and plant-based meat alternatives, this could essentially lower all the barriers to entry.
“We’ve decided to start launching with hybrid products in Singapore to help customers become acquainted with cultivated meat faster,” Meatable’s chief commercial officer Caroline Wilschut explained to TechCrunch. “We know that the idea of consuming cultivated meat still requires further education in terms of what it is, how we develop it, and how we can produce it without harming animals, the planet, and people. The faster we launch, the faster we can start that education to build consumer acceptance and begin making an impact with harm-free meat.”
It’s worth noting that Meatable isn’t going all-in on the hybrid model — it’s still very much continuing its lab-based work to rollout 100% lab-grown meat. But with the new innovation center in Singapore, it’s “seizing an additional opportunity in a supportive regulatory environment,” according to Wilschut.
“Meatable continues with the development of full cultivated meat — however, we’ve also determined that hybrid products can be launched faster than entirely cultivated meat,” she said. “Meatable believes that a hybrid product will help gain acceptance amongst customers and maximise its reach within Singapore.”
The goal here can perhaps be compared to something like that of a hybrid electric vehicle — it helps bring a nascent technology to the masses more quickly. And while there are a few other players dabbling with hybrids in terms of adding a bit of cultivated meat to a substantively plant-based product, Meatable says that it’s turning the tables on this concept.
“In this instance, Meatable and Love Handle are taking a cultivated meat-led approach, which means they are starting with Meatable’s cultivated meat and adding Love Handle’s plant-based protein to develop a hybrid product that — in testing — has emerged as indistinguishable from real meat in taste and texture,” Wilschut said.
This gets to the crux of why hybrid products could be a better idea. Purely plant-based meat alternatives typically lack the taste and texture of real meat, so by bringing together two distinct forms of animal-free meat alternatives, this could help everything scale for everyone involved — a win-win for both Meatable and Love Handle.
This leads us back to the main thrust of today’s announcement. What, exactly, will the new innovation center in Singapore do? According to Wilschut, the lab is scheduled to open fully in 2023, with both companies co-investing in talent starting with around 10 new hires. It will sport a kitchen and a lab featuring all the machines and materials needed to bring hybrid food products to market, while it will also serve as a commercial front-end for everything going on behind the scenes, with space for consumers to try and buy products directly.
“Both companies will invest in the lab, operate the innovation center, and will together hire the talent and resources to run it,” Wilschut said.
Meatable and Love Handle say they plan to commercialize the new hybrid products starting in 2024, with a range spanning dumplings, pulled pork, pork belly, meatballs, cold cuts and patties.