Do you want some gravy with that lab-grown chicken?

The Spark

23rd November 2017

Are you considering swapping your Christmas turkey for a nut roast this year? The very thought of that would probably send shudders down the spines of most carnivores.

However, today’s trend for clean eating and ‘meat free Mondays’ means that plant-based diets are very much on the rise. Tesco says demand for vegetarian and vegan ready meals and snacks has soared 40 per cent in the last year. This has been fuelled by an 8 per cent growth in so-called flexitarianism, whereby consumers are opting to cut down the amount of meat they eat. Growing awareness of the environmental impact of eating meat, as well high-profile celebrities endorsing vegan and flexitarian diets, means that nearly 5 per cent of the UK population now consider themselves vegetarian—up from around 4 per cent three years ago.

Manufacturers and retailers have been quick to cash in on the new trend. Pret a Manger posted record sales this year following the launch of its dedicated vegetarian range. Meat substitute company Quorn Foods also saw “unprecedented” global growth in the first half of 2017, with sales up 19 per cent worldwide.

With the stakes so high, it’s not surprising that some of the most exciting start-ups coming out of Silicon Valley are in the artificial meat business.  In a tiny R&D suite in San Leonardo, Memphis Meats is plotting the development of a range of lab-grown poultry products, which it says could hit the supermarket shelves as early as next year. Another Silicon Valley start-up, Impossible Foods, has raised almost $300 million for a veggie burger that browns like ground beef and even ‘bleeds’ when served rare. There’s also an artificial seafood start-up – Finless Foods – which hopes to end the exploitation of the world’s fish stocks and reduce our reliance on expensive and resource-heavy farming methods.

The idea of ‘frankenmeat’ might sound like something from a 1980s sci-fi movie, but it is a concept that is being touted as a viable solution to the world’s food problems. Consumers are already embracing the idea of produce grown in factories rather than fields, with the likes of Marks & Spencer introducing microherbs cultivated in air-raid shelters below Clapham High Street. Is it a step too far to think that your roast dinner could consist of a lab-grown chicken in the not-too-distant future?

If we were a retailer like Tesco, Waitrose or Ocado, we’d be speaking to Memphis Meats now to see how we could introduce trials of their products at the earliest opportunity. The demand for meat-free alternatives is growing every day, and it’s only a matter of time before science fiction becomes reality.