Editor’s Note: This post is sponsored by AgriFutures Australia, an AgFunder Network Partner and organizer of evokeAG, Asia Pacific’s premier agrifood tech event. It brings together agrifood tech thought leaders and change-makers – from Australia and across the globe – to talk about how innovation and technology collide, intersect, connect, translate, complement, and challenge our most important assets – our people, our farms, our soil, our water, and our Earth. Tickets are on sale here.
View the full two-day program, including all speakers and partners involved in evokeAG. 2023.
“The entire cultured meat industry is focused on beef, chicken and pork,” says Vow CEO and co-founder George Peppou.
No one, however, could accuse his company of sticking solely to those limits.
Like other cultivated meat companies, Vow nourishes animal cells outside the animal to produce meat.
Unlike other companies, since its inception Sydney-based Vow has experimented with everything from alpaca cells to Japanese quail as well as more familiar fare such as goat, pig, and rabbit. The company plans to launch their first product, made from quail in the near future, a goal aided by its recent record-breaking Series A raise.
Morsel, as the first product called, will debut in restaurants in Singapore, pending regulatory approval.
The Cheerios tactic
When it comes to cultivated meat, Peppou suggests it is more important to focus on the end product’s taste, texture and nutritional profile, than which animal cell it came from.
“Our big overarching belief as a company is that you can’t change how meat eaters eat by making the same thing they already consume,” he tells AFN. “We have to do so by creating foods that are tasty and more nutritious or offer some functionality that animals can’t.”
Morsel, then, is less about quail and more about building an entire brand.
Echoing this, Peppou says it’s called Morsel because “it is more than just a single product or a single species.”
If the goal is to produce mass-market food, the industry must find the cheapest, most robust cells that also meet taste and nutrition standards, he notes.
“That’s been a really big focus for us, being able to search through a much wider opportunity within biology. By doing so, different cell ingredients can be mixed and matched in ways that create food animals could never create.”
To illustrate the point, he says Vow’s approach is similar to “the way Cheerios are sold as “Cheerios” and not “as a mix of five grains.”
The to-be-released Umai Quail product is just one of several that will ultimately launch under the Morsel name. As its name suggests, Umai Quail has a “rich” umami flavor and “a texture a little bit more like seafood,” says Peppou. “It’s going to be right at home on menus of high-end restaurants.”
Manufacturing is a major part of this plan. Vow unveiled its “Factory 1” facility last year, which it says is the largest cultivated meat facility in the southern hemisphere.
Factory 1 contains one 2,000-litre production line that is currently fully operational and producing every week. Factory 2, planned for 2023, will be substantially larger.
“We have to build the full stack of underlying tech of all the cell lines, media process development, and product development, then build our own manufacturing and take products to market,” Peppou says of the company’s process.
A philosophical approach
One thing consumers won’t likely see is a hybrid product from Vow that blends plant-based and cultivated meat. Advocates of this method say it is a faster, cheaper way to get cultivated products to market. Several companies now have blended meats in development.
Peppou says Vow’s decision to bypass this route is more philosophical than anything. Many plant-based products are made from ingredients grown via mono-cropping, which is all about yield at the cost of biodiversity, climate and ultimately food security.
“Plant-based is typically using soy or occasionally yellow peas, which are absolutely the top of the list when it comes to industrial mono crops,” he says. “That’s not something that I want to be really dependent on.”
He’s quick to point out that not all plant-based products fall into this category.
Fable, another Australian company, derives its clean-label protein from Shiitake mushrooms.
“I see Fable as kind of a sibling company because they are not replicating beef, but making a really enjoyable mushroom alternative which stands on its own,” he says. “They do it using simple, traditional low impact farming approaches like fungal production, to make really high-quality products.”
A hub for unconventional innovation
Peppou believes Vow, and other agrifood tech startups may have an advantage being in Australia and therefore physically far away from most other cultivated meat startups.
“I think it would be very difficult for us to build a company like Vow, with such an outrageous approach, somewhere like the [San Francisco] Bay Area,” he says. “There’s such a loud chorus of investors, commentators and founders and big companies that have this very clear narrative of “make beef [products] and people will eat it instead of beef.”
One of the advantages to working in an entirely different hemisphere is being above to avoid those prevailing narratives.
“I think the same is true for other agrifood tech companies in Australia. We’re [geographically] far removed, but still have really good access to markets. This has an advantage when you’re trying to build something in a very unconventional way.”
Bringing Australian innovation to the world
Helping Australian agrifood tech innovators – like Vow – leverage the opportunities that come with being “geographically far removed” and to access global markets, is the ethos behind AgriFutures evokeAG. Through its cornerstone two-event and a digital platform, evokeAG. connects the Australian agrifood innovation community with local and global players. And showcases innovation, as well as opportunities for investment in this innovation.
Sharing his insights George will join a panel with three other synBio players at evokeAG. 2023 in Adelaide, Australia on 21-22 February 2023. Facilitated by Dr Aparna Venkatesh, Collaborative Innovation Lead, Bühler Group, George along with Dr Natalie Curach Senior Director Business Development, Ginkgo Bioworks; Nick Hazell, CEO and Founder, v2food; and Michele Stansfield, CEO of Cauldron Molecules will take a deep dive into how synbio is transforming agriculture and our food system one cell at a time.