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A stake in clean steak: Cargill Protein part of US$12m funding round for clean meat innovator Aleph Farms

Aleph Farms, a cultured meat innovator best known for introducing a lab-grown minute steak, has raised US$12 million in series A investments, with investors including Cargill Protein. This new influx of support includes a blend of classic venture capitalists and strategic partners. The injection of capital will allow Aleph Farms to accelerate product development of its slaughter-free meat and to transform Aleph’s prototype into a commercial product. Its cultured meat will be grown in large, clean bio-farm facilities similar to a dairy facility. Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, tells that the company will start building bio-farms to grow its meat toward a limited launch within three to four years.

This most recent funding round was led by VisVires New Protein (VVNP), Singapore; with Cargill Protein, US; and M-Industry – the industrial group of Migros, Switzerland, as new investors. Existing investors also joining this round include Strauss Group, Israel; Peregrine Ventures, Israel; CPT Capital, UK; Jesselson investments, Israel; New Crop Capital, US and Technion Investment Opportunity Fund, Israel.

Co-founded in 2017 by Israeli food-tech incubator The Kitchen, Aleph Farms’ non-GMO technology relies on a natural process occurring in cattle to regenerate and build muscle tissues. The company discovered a way to isolate the cells responsible for that process and grow them outside of the animal to form the same muscle tissue typical to steaks.

The demand for protein is expected to grow 70 percent over the next 30 years as the global population continues to increase, according to Cargill data. This comes at a time when the adverse impacts of climate change and the effects on agriculture and livestock sectors are under the spotlight. Dietary changes are needed to slow the impact of climate change, warns a recent analysis from the University of Oxford and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Still, consumers are not willing to compromise on taste, which is why cell-grown meat technology is attracting interest for its promise of slaughter-free meat, without the need for devoting vast tracts of land, water, feed and other resources to raise cattle.

Key concerns of the meat industry and regulators include sustainability of meat production, antibiotics resistance and foodborne illnesses.

Despite growing interest in cultured meat, its actual environmental benefits vis-a-vis traditional livestock methods have been questioned, prompting some cultured meat proponents to point to the need for continued investment and R&D in scaling up cultured meat capabilities in a beneficial way.

“This is a vote of confidence in Aleph Farms’ leading 3D technology and its capabilities for growing real beef steaks. Strategic partners from the food industry are important because we need to build a sustainable ecosystem for cultured meat,” says Matthieu Vermersch, Founder and Managing Partner of VisVires New Protein. “This round has been highly successful and includes diverse food companies and VCs from multiple regions around the world.”

“We will be part of the long-term solution,” says Toubia. “We intend to lead an open dialog with farmers and food and feed producers. In addition, we continue to work closely with the regulators to ensure our products will be completely safe, healthy and properly labeled. We welcome the collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as an opportunity to promote transparency and build trust with all stakeholders.”

While cultured proteins represent a relatively small portion of Cargill's portfolio, the company sees value in investments in innovators like Aleph Farms.

“This partnership connects new frontiers in cell-based technology with insights in the global food system and supply chains to meet future customer and consumer needs,” says Sonya Roberts, Managing Director of Growth Ventures and Strategic Pricing for Cargill Protein North America, speaking on the company’s role in the funding.

“Consumer demand for protein continues to be very strong. That means there’s an opportunity for plant and cultured protein growth to complement our traditional animal protein portfolio,” Roberts adds.

Aleph Farms plans to begin building bio-farms and move toward a limited consumer product launch with steak grown under controlled conditions within three to four years.

The investment in Aleph Farms builds on Cargill’s other partnerships in alternative protein. In 2017, Cargill was an early investor in Memphis Meats, a company leading the way in the development of cultured meat. Cargill also is an investor in plant-based protein through Puris, a firm that has launched a new pea-based protein that is non-GMO, organic and allergen-friendly. These business moves complement the company's investment in its traditional animal protein portfolio, which has totaled more than US$1.5 billion over several years.

“We all need to work together to address the increasing global need for protein in the coming years, especially as more consumers move into the middle-class and the demand for protein increases. We have a responsibility to look at all innovations that can help us feed the world,” says Jon Nash, president, Cargill Protein-North America.



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