A Beefy Opportunity
Raising livestock accounts for 18% of the global greenhouse gas emissions – from methane, primarily, but also from animal feed production and land use. Animal agriculture takes up ⅔ of the world’s water supply. Producing meat is a huge stressor on the planet, yet consumers continue to demand it. The leading meat and poultry processing companies in the U.S. had ~$160B in sales in 2015. This growing conflict between the meat industry and global climate concerns presents a huge opportunity for new and old players to find efficiency and resolve the conflict.
An Udderly New Solution
Many companies are attempting to capitalize on climate change’s livestock emissions problem. While some companies are trying to shift focus to plant-based foods, one company has come up with a creative solution without compromising the end result: Memphis Meats is growing meat in a lab. Well, kind of. After R&D, meat cells are actually grown and cultured in a way that resembles how beer is brewed in a brewery. By growing actual meat cells outside the body of an animal, Memphis Meats has eliminated much of the environmental cost of traditional animal agriculture: no cow, no pig, no feed, no emissions. What I think is extra cool about clean meat is that it helps solve several major food problems simultaneously: creating a sustainable source of meat, getting ahead of the world’s increasing demand for food, which is predicted to at least double by 2050, and eliminating animal welfare concerns associated with traditional animal feedlot practices.
In a Prime Position
Few organizations are currently developing meat production alternatives quite like Memphis Meats. In fact, SuperMeat may be one of the only other companies producing cultured meat. In any case, when the opposition/opportunity size is the traditional meat industry, competition doesn’t seems to be a huge concern. Memphis Meats products are still in R&D, but media coverage has been optimistic about the results. Huffington Post at least thinks the Memphis Meats meatball looks “pretty damn tasty”. The company is gearing up to raise their series A next year and require investor funding to continue R&D and go to market. The goal: be available in grocery stores by 2021.
As consumers increasingly realize the impacts of climate change and how much of that is caused by the meat industry, demands for solutions will increase accordingly. Memphis Meats stands to gain considerably in this movement. To fully realize those gains, I would recommend they focus on (1) pushing consumers into the movement and educating them and (2) satisfying the demand when it arrives.
I think it’s important for Memphis Meats to participate more actively in the conversation around sustainable agriculture. They should have a bigger online presence and invest in inbound marketing to increase consumer awareness of both the problem and the existence of alternatives. They also need to manage their messaging about clean meat. From the perspective of the end product, cultured meat is arguably the closest alternative to meat produced via traditional agriculture. By that logic, it should be the easiest to convert current consumers to compared with plant-based products, but it can flop if not managed properly. Because, perception. Lab-grown meat is weird! Can I get a well-marbled slab of it? Are you playing god by doing this? What are the inputs to growing these meat cells and how are they actually more efficient than the crops we grow to feed animals? If they haven’t already done so, the company should prepare to objection handle and reach out to consumers beyond the one cool YouTube video they’ve produced.
In parallel, I think Memphis Meats should prioritize plans to scale quickly to meet customer demand and truly make a difference in emissions generated by animal agriculture. To that end, partnering with grocery chains or even with meat companies themselves could be effective. A company like Tyson Foods may have the infrastructure, relationships with distribution, capital that Memphis Meats needs to scale its operations. To date, regulation has been arguably ineffective in incentivizing the meat industry to change its practices to reduce emissions, but that may not be the case long-term. Furthermore, meat processing companies are only considering half measures to reduce emissions such as changing the diet of cows to reduce methane. Memphis Meats’ radically different approach may make it all the more attractive to these companies. Obviously there would be significant risks with such a partnership that the company would need to weigh against the benefits.
I believe in the mission of Memphis Meats, and I’m hopeful they’ll be able to manage perception and scale in order to capture the opportunity climate change has presented. Go Memphis Meats!!
Word Count: 791
1Mario Herrero. To reduce greenhouse gases from cows and sheep, we need to look at the big picture, The Conversation, March 21, 2016. http://theconversation.com/to-reduce-greenhouse-gases-from-cows-and-sheep-we-need-to-look-at-the-big-picture-56509
2Eve Wettläufer. We Should Embrace the Clean Meat Revolution, U-Wire, October 5 2016. https://global-factiva-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=1478268245692024403430371687795
3Meat & Poultry. n.d. Leading meat and poultry processing companies in the United States in 2015, based on sales (in billion U.S. dollars). Statista. Accessed 3 November, 2016. https://www-statista-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/statistics/264898/major-us-meat-and-poultry-companies-based-on-sales/.
4Maarten Elferink, Florian Schierhorn. Global Demand for Food Is Rising. Can We Meet It? Harvard Business Review, APRIL 07, 2016. https://hbr.org/2016/04/global-demand-for-food-is-rising-can-we-meet-it
5Andrew Tobin. No harm, no fowl: Startup to grow chickenless chicken, Times of Israel, July 13, 2016. http://www.timesofisrael.com/no-harm-no-fowl-startup-to-grow-chickenless-chicken/
6Hilary Hanson. ‘World’s First’ Lab-Grown Meatball Looks Pretty Damn Tasty, Huffington Post, Februrary 2, 2016. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/lab-grown-meatball-memphis-meats_us_56b12317e4b04f9b57d7a9b2
7Jacob Bunge, Patrick McGroarty.Quest Heats Up for Alternatives to Beef, Dow Jones Newswires, November 4 2016. https://global-factiva-com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/ha/default.aspx#./!?&_suid=1478268245692024403430371687795
9Christopher Hyner, A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on It, October 23, 2015. https://journals.law.stanford.edu/stanford-environmental-law-journal-elj/blog/leading-cause-everything-one-industry-destroying-our-planet-and-our-ability-thrive-it