Food Technology

An Afternoon with Josh Tetrick: the Man Who Wants to Bring In Vitro Meat to the Market by 2018

Meet Joshua Tetrick, CEO and founder of food startup Hampton Creek. Tetrick is internationally known for his bold wish to reinvent the food industry, and he’s been at it since 2011. Now working with Ira van Eelen (who you may know as the daughter-of-the-godfather-of-in-vitro-meat), he is ready to make a change. Currently speaking with governments in US, Singapore, China and the Netherlands to explore what leadership in this field looks like, Josh and Ira make their claim for global awareness. Their biggest challenge today? Launch lab-grown meat on the market by the end of 2018.

It’s time to demystify in vitro meat

But first things first. Hampton Creek is a young food startup born in 2011 in San Fransisco, US. Founded by Josh Balk and CEO Josh Tetrick, the company puts plant-based foods on the table and offers products ranging from dressings to cookies, from mayos to cookie dough. Their latest product, Just Scramble, gained internationally acclaimed status for being an ‘eggproduct’ made from mung bean, which scrambles like an egg. There’s more: the egg scramble is free of antibiotics and cholesterol and requires less water and fewer carbon emissions. And yes, it tastes just like an egg.

Now, it’s time to raise the bar, it’s time to demystify in vitro meat. And that’s where Tetrick comes back in. He met Ira van Eelen over the phone. A phone call like no other you might say, as on September 14th, his company announced it had acquired Willem van Eelen’s original patents for lab-grown meat, and took Ira aboard to bring her father’s idea to market by the end of 2018; nearly six decades after the original concept first swirled through her father’s head.

Ira admits her father was never the strongest advocate to campaign for in vitro meat, but at the same time, he was the only one. “Keep in mind there was no Internet back then” she says, “basically there was a phone book and an idea. And some books of course. And my father read them all. He didn’t swipe through them, he actually read through them”.

If only five million people in the world will start eating in vitro meat, this already makes a difference, but still, it won’t be enough

Her father upheld his excitement about the idea as it became his lifelong dream, Ira commemorates, and it’s in this wonderful dream where the young entrepreneur met him. “Josh has put my dad’s idea back into a possibility” Ira smiles. “When we buried our dad in 2015, we hoped it would take some 30 years before his idea was introduced to the general public”. But that dream appears to take an accelerated turn, as the world is waking up from its meaty hangover and it is now hungry for more.

Aware of the fact that their ideas are at large and break with the traditional discerning of our foods, “we gotta get started” Josh says. “If only five million people in the world will start eating in vitro meat, this already makes a difference, but still, it won’t be enough”. Ira adds: “A change is happening in the world. Countries are becoming more rich, which simultaneously implies their food patterns are changing as well. And that’s a good thing of course. We want all the people in the world to lead an amazing life. And have the possibility to eat meat, but in a different manner”.

“We still need to figure out how to solve all of these challenges” Josh says. “We need to have other companies involved. It’s crazy to hear that W. Smith Group, one of the biggest meat corporations only produces 1.6% of the entire world production. That’s less than 2%! In other words, the problem has become too big today, and will be too big tomorrow. Meat companies will need to get other entrepreneurs involved in this. But also academia, and young people!”.

It’s a challenge that requires all of us!

Besides headlining the scope of the problem, Josh puts it differently: “At first, the problem is immensive and put similar problems to table as to earlier cases in history where change was needed: think of transitioning from wail oil to kerosine, or the introduction of the light bulb, and more recently, electric cars! The first patent for an electric car was filed in 1909. And in a way it was as obvious as it is today. Resistance can be overcome – as long as it’s safe and provides a better living experience”.

“A big part of convincing people is by doing it” he adds. “We don’t live in a world of monopolies anymore. The world now requires innovations from all these different companies and needs new players, academia and policymakers aboard. And we are collectively perfectly capable of doing that. However, we need to get it our on the market now, and show people it tastes good. And moreover, show other meat companies that new economics make sense. It’s a challenge that requires all of us!”.

So once the mindset is there, how to explain people it’s meat as we know it? Or to put it differently, just meat? “Well, it’s compositionally the same. So it’s just meat” Josh says. “Take Just Scramble for example, this looks like an egg and tastes like an egg, but under the microscope, it’s a plant. If you would compare a chicken egg with Just Scramble, you’ll end up having one as the result of a chicken’s ovulation process, and the other grown in an Asian field. It’s compositionally different. However, putting a lab-grown fat cell or muscle under the microscope, and compare it to an animal ‘killed in a conventional way’ it’s compositionally the same!”.

We need to overcome the fact that it’s not lab-made meat anymore!

Ira jumps in and adds: “We need to overcome the fact that it’s not lab-made meat anymore! It’s meat made in an incubator, or in a bioreactor. And please help us with a fitting name (yes next nature explorers, this is a call to you too, log in and share with us your suggestions in the comment section below!). But we have to take it out of the lab” Josh adds, “the iPhone was in a lab once, and so was your cereal and your yoghurt!”.

Now it’s time to bring it to market. Working towards this thrilling momentum, Josh tell us they had learned a lot from introducing Just Mayo back in 2013 (which resulted in a high profile lawsuit over name giving – which eventually was dropped). “What happened was that, technically according to standards of identity in the US we couldn’t name the product mayonaise as it didn’t contain eggs. But note these regulations were written in 1961. Imagine a similar regulation for cars; where you cannot call something a car unless it has an internal combustion engine. That’s just crazy, isn’t it? If we had named it vegan mayonaise, only vegans would buy it” he explains.

But again, it’s just meat!

Josh, a vegan himself, confesses he does eat meat once it’s made this way, for which he often ends up in heated debates with people calling him a ‘traitor’. “It requires the energy of a generation to overcome all these challenges” he says.

According to the young entrepreneur, “there will be a lot of people grossed out by it. That’s why we need to kick off the product by elevating it first. We are currently looking to partner with several restaurants in San Fransisco, Hong Kong and Amsterdam. This way people will get used to the idea of eating it, and we are already doing this as a way to get in on the ground. We are working with some of the best chefs around the world to cook the dish to perfection and get you yummy”.

Keep in mind that 99% of the planet never even heard about this idea

Ira imagines a future scenario where in ten years we will tell our children we once used to slaughter an animal, which due to the acceptance of lab-made meat will become hard to grasp for these younger generations. “We have so much knowledge and opportunities to gain from, so let’s change it!” Josh cheers. “And make it fun!”.

While there are many technical challenges at current, Josh and Ira are looking to dish out three types of in vitro goodies by the end of next year: expect a sausage, fois gras and chicken nuggets from Hampton Creek’s kitchen.

“I’m not talking about steak yet” Josh laughs. “Keep in mind that 99% of the planet never even heard about this idea”.

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