Eat Just announces plans for commercial-scale cell-based meat facility

Dive Brief:

  • Good Meat, the cultivated meat division of Eat Just, signed an exclusive multiyear agreement with biotech process engineering company ABEC to build 10 250,000-liter bioreactors for meat cultivation. These will be the largest bioreactors ever built for bird or mammal cell culture, and they will be at a facility that can make up to 30 million pounds of meat a year, according to a press release.
  • Eat Just is currently looking for a site for this facility, which will be in the United States. The company said a location will be selected in the next three months. 
  • Eat Just is the latest cell-based meat company to announce its plans for a commercial-scale facility in the United States. Future Meat Technologies, SuperMeat and Upside Foods are all engaged in similar processes.

Dive Insight:

In five years, cultivated meat companies have gone from creating prototypes to planning facilities that can feed the masses. This new agreement between Eat Just and ABEC will help enable the type of future that many in the space have talked about, in which consumers will be able to choose whether their meat came from animals.

Eat Just is the world’s only company that is actually in the business of selling cultivated meat. It received approval in 2020 to sell cultivated chicken bites in Singapore. Since the initial approval, the chicken has appeared in restaurants and street hawker kiosks on the island nation. Under Eat Just’s agreement with ABEC, the company is also building new bioreactors to increase supply in Singapore.

But Singapore is not the United States, and many cell-based meat companies have had their eyes on this market from the beginning. Funding and technological ability are making it possible for companies to look toward this step. In 2021, Eat Just was the beneficiary of $467 million in investment funds — $200 million for the company as a whole, including the plant-based Just Egg division, and $267 million for Good Meat. 

“We’ve learned that consumers want this, and we’re ready to take the next step to make this happen at commercial scale. I am very proud to partner with the ABEC team to make this historic facility happen,” Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, said in a written statement.

At this moment, Eat Just cannot sell Good Meat to U.S. consumers. The company, like many others in the space, has been working with the USDA and the FDA — which will be jointly regulating cultivated meat products — for years. The U.S. government doesn’t yet have regulations for cell-based meat products or facilities, but companies like Eat Just that are working with regulators now can be much closer to approval when policies governing the space are issued. But, considering the amount of time it takes to build a large-scale facility, it may well be ready at a time Eat Just is able to sell its cultivated meat.

In the young cultivated meat industry, everything is a big and new development. But taking a wider look at bioreactors that are used to produce cells for any use — something that has previously mainly been done for the medical and pharmaceutical industries — this agreement is also a literal huge deal. While ABEC is considered a leader in building custom bioreactors, it has never built anything this large before. According to renderings from Eat Just, the bioreactors will be four stories tall.

And while Eat Just has been able to successfully scale from creating meat at a benchtop to bioreactors large enough to produce products, getting to this size has its own difficulties. In a written statement, ABEC CEO and Chairperson Scott Pickering said that the biggest issue so far is creating an environment inside such a large bioreactor that allows equal cell growth throughout.

“While there are some technical challenges, there are none that we feel can’t be overcome,” Pickering said. “We are executing a systematic development effort to address the challenges and risks, as we have done historically bringing innovative solutions to biopharmaceutical manufacturing.”

In order for cultivated meat to be able to break through as an actual consumer product and make a difference in what people buy, facilities that produce meat at this scale need to be built. Partnerships are key for companies in this nascent industry to be able to get there.

This is the second big partnership Eat Just has announced recently. Last week, the company revealed a joint development agreement with Archer Daniels Midland. Through this partnership, ADM is working with Eat Just on two other major components of scaling cell-based meat: optimizing a plant-based growth medium to feed the cells and helping with the taste and texture of eventual products.