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January 22, 2020

A Rare Opportunity – Memphis Meats Serves up Real Meat without the Compromise

dinner plate with chicken

“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.”

– Winston Churchill, 1931

We are thrilled to announce our Series B investment in Memphis Meats, a pioneer in the cell-based meat industry. The company’s vision is to provide a sustainable, humane and healthy alternative to conventional meat and, in doing so, help secure global food supply. We are excited to partner with Memphis Meats’ extraordinary team on their journey to feed the world.

Meat [Still] Matters

Of all calories consumed globally by humans, 30 percent comes from meat, and the $1.4 trillion global market for meat is expected to double by 2050. No matter your diet or politics, the reality is that conventional meat production methods can’t keep up with global demand. Animal agriculture already uses a third of fresh water available on Earth; grazing land and cropland for production of feed represents almost 80 percent of all agricultural land. Manufacturers’ efforts to produce more meat in the same amount of space puts pressure on already confined livestock conditions and encourages aggressive use of antibiotics to combat disease. At current consumption rates and using conventional production methods, meat will become not just unsustainable, but also unattainable – in only one generation from now.

The majority of American omnivores have considered reducing their consumption of meat for health, environmental, and/or animal welfare concerns. Novel plant-based meats, most notably Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have made significant inroads in convincing consumers to explore conventional meat alternatives. However, almost 90 percent of consumers eating plant-based meats are omnivores – even as they cut back, many people still crave the real deal.

Serving Up Cell-based Meat

What if consumers didn’t have to compromise? Cell-based meat, or whatever label regulators ultimately select, allows consumers to enjoy the meat they know and love while offering potentially huge environmental, health and safety, and animal welfare benefits. It is real meat, but without the animal.

Here’s how it works: The team collects a small sample of cells from high-quality animals and selects the ones with the greatest potential to grow into high quality meat. These cells are then fed essential nutrients to develop into muscle, fat, and connective tissue. The end result is a product that is compositionally the same as conventionally-produced meat, but entirely pure – simple ingredients, clean conditions, minimal impact.

So why isn’t cell-based meat on our plates today? The capability exists at small scale, but production costs are high – the world’s first cell-based burger cost nearly $300,000 to produce. The regulatory pathways to bring this product to market are still unfolding. Finally, there is little venture funding into this space, especially beyond the seed stage. That is all about to change, and you have to hear the Memphis Meats story to believe it.

The Unexpected Cowboy

Memphis Meat’s co-founder and CEO, Dr. Uma Valeti, grew up eating meat, but he grew uncomfortable with how meat was brought to the table. As a cardiologist trained at the Mayo Clinic, Uma repaired patients’ hearts, at times using heart tissue grown from individual cells. He realized that a similar process could grow real meat directly from animal cells, eliminating the need for livestock and animal slaughter. From our first meeting, we were struck by Uma’s unshakable commitment to realizing this dream.

We see in Uma the values that we admire in America’s cowboys – an authentic love for the land and sense of duty to protect it, the courage to ride into uncharted territory, and the heart to finish what he started. Uma appreciates the role that meat plays in nourishing communities and bringing loved ones together, and he doesn’t want any of us to have to compromise.

Uma has built a world-class technical team with powerhouses from companies such as Genentech and Merck and the world’s best food and agriculture scientists who share his passion and vision. This team is uniquely positioned to build a platform that can produce meat from any animal species, a huge accelerant for development. Initially, it was hard not to wonder if Uma was all hat and no cattle (translation for non-Texans: all talk and no action). But after tasting their chicken and duck, it became clear that this is the future – and Memphis Meats is the team to get us there.

The company understands the importance of trust and education in this budding market. Memphis Meats has been working closely with regulators and leading an industry consortium to ensure a safe, pure, and tasty consumer product. This funding will allow Memphis Meats to build a pilot production facility, bring products to market, and expand their incredible team (yes, they’re hiring!). The opportunity to work with visionaries like these is why we got into venture in the first place. For us, their story is one we want to tell our grandchildren about one day. Memphis Meats’ ambition creates a legacy that we all get to enjoy – in a safer, healthier, more sustainable world.

Bite-Sized Backgrounds

Priti: I am a lifelong vegetarian who believes in non-violence at my core. I realize I’m not going to turn the world into vegetarians, but cell-based meat is the closest and next best thing. In Memphis Meats, I see a massive opportunity to feed our planet in a sustainable and humane fashion. 

Kathryn: I grew up in Texas, where vegetarian options are in short supply. I lived in Nashville, the home of hot chicken and the Meat and Three. My family is from New Orleans, so we also eat just about everything under the sea. Meat is a big part of my heritage, so Memphis Meat’s mission immediately resonated.