If you live in Singapore, you can taste the future in a restaurant -- or delivered via Foodpanda.
A food entrepreneur might be offended when told their product "tastes like chicken." Not Josh Tetrick, CEO of Eat Just: For him, that's a huge win. Eat Just's cultured chicken has been approved for sale in Singapore under the brand Good Meat, a watershed moment in the commercialization of cultured meat, which is grown from meat cells without an actual animal being slaughtered. "What this does," says Tetrick, "is open a door."
That door first opened at the restaurant inside membership club 1880 in Singapore -- when it added Good Meat's cultured chicken to the menu in December. That availability expands to delivery via Foodpanda in Singapore starting on Earth Day, April 22. Each order will include a Google Cardboard VR headset that can be used to view an immersive film that relates production to the environment.
Plant-based meats have been on a tear in grocery stores and our minds, but cultured meat is seen as a major step toward closing the gap with people who still aren't convinced by alternative protein.
To differentiate its cultured meat products from its plant-based products like Just Egg, Eat Just felt it was important to launch the Good Meat brand. That strategy was applauded by brand guru Al Ries -- who advocates new brands for new sectors as opposed to creating line extensions.
"Singapore is one of the most forward-thinking countries on the planet," says Josh Tetrick. "They have forward-thinking regulators [who] looked at a number of elements related to safety and were the first to really get their act together" in terms of creating a review and approval process for cultured meat.
Cultured chicken was recently launched at The Chicken restaurant in Tel Aviv, but that's essentially an invite-only test kitchen for cultured meat company SuperMeat. Good Meat cultured chicken is the first offered for retail sale at an independent restaurant. It will first appear as breaded bites and later as grillable cuts.
"We didn't work two years to get the approval just to sit on this," says Tetrick. "After Singapore we'll move to the US and Western Europe." But US availability won't be that simple: A regulatory process for cultured meat doesn't yet exist between the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, though they have agreed to team up. "Once they do that, we'll be ready to launch," says Tetrick, though initial volumes will be small.
With the complications of COVID-19, I wasn't able to get to the company's test kitchen to sample their cultured chicken, but CNET's Lexy Savvides tasted an early version in 2019 and said, "the crunch from the breading and the smell from the fry was exactly what I expected from a good chicken nugget. But I was pleasantly surprised at how similar the cultured chicken itself tasted compared to the real deal."
Any discussion of cultured meat quickly comes around to scale, which drives its availability and affordability -- huge hurdles in a marketplace where conventional animal meat is cheap and plentiful. "We have a lot of work to do on the cost side," admits Tetrick. Delivery of a Good Meat cultured chicken entree via Foodpanda will initially be priced at about $15.
While exact delivery pricing will appear on Foodpanda upon launch, Tetrick says, "We're going to put it on the menu at about price parity with a premium chicken [dish], but we have north of five years to go" to get the price below conventional chicken. "But we're not confused about how we get there. We know exactly the work we need to do."
Alternative protein companies rely on a troika of market positions that typically lean hardest on an environmental pitch, followed by consumer health and animal welfare. But Eat Just tends to balance those more evenly. "I care deeply about mitigating climate change and about preserving biodiversity," says Tetrick, who's done sustainability work at Citigroup and law firm McGuireWoods. "But there's something deep in our value system about behaving in a kind and caring way, and our food system should represent that."
There are interesting parallels between the cultured meat and electric car sectors: Both are introducing technology that can inspire initial resistance from consumers and existential alarm from conventional producers, involve a major shift in infrastructure and need some degree of regulatory air cover to succeed. "A new space race for the future of food is underway," says Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, in a statement reacting to the Good Meat announcement. "As nations race to divorce meat production from industrial animal agriculture, countries that delay their investment in this bright food future risk getting left behind."
Normalization is half the battle in large-scale change, and Tetrick says he knows when cultured meat will have achieved that: "Eventually, I want tens of thousands of restaurants to have it on their menu and then, at some point, ask their chefs, 'Why do we have conventional chicken on the menu, too?'"