Memphis Meats says it has developed a way to grow animal cells into products that have the look, texture, and taste of meat from farm-grown chickens. The San Francisco Bay area startup is now working to scale up its production process, and it has raised $17 million in funding toward that goal.
The Series A investment, announced Wednesday, was led by DFJ a venture capital firm that previously invested in companies such as Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA), SpaceX, and Skype.
DFJ Partner Steve Jurvetson is joining the young company’s board of directors.
The investment marks a milestone for a company that was founded two years ago by CEO Uma Valeti, a cardiologist, and chief scientific officer Nicholas Genovese, a stem cell biologist. The company says it harvests meat cells from animals and then grows them under laboratory conditions. Its process takes four to six weeks, depending on the cut of meat. Memphis offers the prospect of customization, claiming that it has identified particular cells that can produce certain flavors, textures, and aromas.
Last year, Memphis unveiled a beef cell-based meatball produced by its technology. In March, the company announced that its technology could also produce meat-like products by cultivating cells from poultry, such as chickens and ducks. But the process is expensive, no matter the source of the cells. Memphis told the Wall Street Journal last year that it cost $18,000 to produce a pound of its ground beef.
Memphis will clearly need to bring those costs down in order to reach consumers. The company aims to make its meat-like product comparable in cost to meat, and it hopes to demonstrate savings compared to conventional animal farms. The company says it expects its process will use less than a tenth of the water and half of the energy required in animal farming. Memphis also says its meat substitute will avoid the animal welfare concerns that surround raising and slaughtering animals.
Some major food companies want a seat at the table of emerging meat-like products. At the AgBiotech Summit in Chapel Hill, NC, last September, Tyson Foods (NYSE: TSN) scientist Hultz Smith said his company does not see cultured meat products as replacements for conventional chicken. Instead, these products could offer consumers an alternative, he said. A few months later, Tyson unveiled a $150 million venture capital fund focused on investing in food technologies. The fund’s first investment was a stake in Beyond Meat, an El Segundo, CA, company developing plant-based meat-like products.
Memphis has found more food companies warming to new food technologies. Minneapolis-based food giant Cargill was one of a number of food companies that Memphis says joined in its investment round. Other investors include Atomico, New Crop Capital, SOSV, Fifty Years, KBW Ventures, Inevitable Ventures, and individual investors Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Suzy and Jack Welch, Kyle Vogt, and Kimbal Musk.
Other food technology startups focused on meat-like products are attracting investor interest. Earlier this month, Redwood City, CA-based Impossible Foods, the Stanford spinout whose plant-based “hamburger” was developed to offer the taste and texture of beef, raised an additional $75 million to bring its total funding to $257 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Photo by Memphis Meats.