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After Hybrid Vehicles, Is Hybrid Meat the new trend?

Many startups in 2022 are focusing on developing and releasing alternatives to conventional meat, seafood, and dairy goods.

Photo by Glsun Mall / Unsplash

Many startups in 2022 are focusing on developing and releasing alternatives to conventional meat, seafood, and dairy goods.

Plant-based foods that imitate actual meat in terms of texture, appearance, and feel and "lab-grown" farmed meat formed from animal cells in a test tube are the two main categories within the meat-substitute space. Although they are all essentially working to address the same issue, that of saving the world by weaning humans off of animal protein, they each come with their benefits and drawbacks.

Meatable (1) hopes to speed up bringing lab-grown meat to consumers by using plant proteins.

Plant-based meat substitutes are already on sale in many parts of the world, while lab-grown meat is still in its infancy, with only Singapore allowing its sale. Singapore in Asia has become a focal point for the growing synthetic meat industry; only this week, Vow, an Australian company, announced a $49.2 million fundraising round to get its cultured meat product into Singaporean eateries by the end of the year.

Meatable, a VC-backed Dutch business that just released its first product line of synthetic sausages, has just partnered with Love Handle (2), a culinary startup based in Singapore, to establish what it calls "the world's first hybrid meat innovation center."

This follows Meatable's entry into the Singaporean market. The company teamed with Esco Aster to produce grown pork products and plans to invest some $60 million over the next five years. (3)

These two businesses are joining forces to combine the advantages of cultured meat and vegetarian protein sources.

What Meatable & Love Handle is aiming for isn't completely original; others have pursued this goal, and comparable efforts are being made worldwide to lessen the use of animals in food production by creating hybrid goods that combine real meat with plant-based substitutes. (4) The concept is that a burger with less beef is better for the environment (and for people's health), even if it still contains actual meat.

But why would a firm like Meatable, which builds its whole business model on the premise of its "fake real meat," do what it does? Simply said, speed to market and reduced costs are the two most important factors.

Critics claim that there is little evidence to suggest that the cost of developing lab-grown meat will ever be low enough to allow for major commercialization.

Even in Singapore, where it is legal to consume, there are substantial legislative restrictions. There is also the psychological hurdle of getting used to eating lab-grown meat.

Therefore, if we could combine cultured and plant-based meat alternatives, we could eliminate most of the hurdles currently standing in the way.

Meatable's chief commercial officer, Caroline Wilschut, described the company's decision to start with hybrid products in Singapore so buyers may more quickly become familiar with cultured meat.

"We recognize the need for additional education on consuming cultured meat, including what it is, how it is developed, and how it can be produced without causing harm to animals, the environment, or people. The sooner we get going, the sooner we can begin educating people and making an impact with our harm-free beef.

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It's important to remember that Meatable isn't putting all of its eggs in the hybrid model's basket; the company is still heavily investing in the laboratory to commercialize 100% lab-grown meat. By opening its new innovation center in Singapore, the company is "seizing an extra opportunity in a supportive regulatory framework," as Wilschut puts it.

While "Meatable" is still working on developing fully cultivated meat, "we've also found that hybrid goods may be launched sooner than wholly cultivated meat," she explained. Meatable is confident that a hybrid offering will help them expand its consumer base in Singapore.

The purpose here is similar to that of a hybrid electric car in that it expedites the widespread adoption of emerging technology. Meatable claims to be flipping the concept of hybrids on its head, yet it isn't the only company experimenting with the idea of including some produced meat in an otherwise plant-based product.

According to Wilschut, "in this case, Meatable and Love Handle are taking a cultivated meat-led approach," meaning that they are beginning with Meatable's cultivated meat and then adding Love Handle's plant-based protein to create a hybrid product that, in testing, is indistinguishable from real meat in taste and texture.

This gets to the heart of why hybrid products may be preferable. Combining two distinct types of animal-free meat substitutes might help scale for everyone involved; it's a win-win for Meatable and Love Handle. Typically, purely plant-based meat replacements lack the taste and texture of real meat.

That brings us full circle to the meat of today's report. Just what functions will the Singapore-based innovation hub serve? Wilschut estimates that by 2023 the lab will be fully operational, with the two corporations investing jointly in a team of ten researchers.

It will have a commercial front end, with space for people to try and buy items directly, as well as a production kitchen and lab with all the equipment and materials required to bring hybrid cuisine products to market.

With Wilschut's help, "both organizations will engage in the laboratory, operate the innovation hub, and jointly hire the resources and talent to run it," he explained.

Dumplings, pulled pork, pork belly, meatballs, cold cuts, and patties are just some new hybrid goods that Meatable and Love Handle hope to bring to market beginning in 2024.