Steakholder Foods: Bioprinting A Pathway To Revenue Streams In A Futuristic Industry

Revenue streams are within sight for the cultivated meat industry, but the products themselves aren't the answer just yet.

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Happy Tuesday Market Shakers. 

Today we sit down with Arik Kaufman, CEO and co-founder of Steakholder Foods, a company developing sophisticated 3D printers for cultivated meat and seafood.

* This interview has been condensed.

Steakholder Foods is unique in a number of ways. Not least of all because it’s the only publicly traded cultivated meat company on the Nasdaq (a large US stock exchange). This is an interesting position to be in.

For starters, it gives the opportunity to anyone with the financial means to literally hold a stake in the future of meat. But let’s be clear, Steakeholder Foods is all about the future: it doesn’t actually sell anything yet. 

This means the quarterly financials it’s obligated to publish as a listed company are, for the most part, running reports of losses. You can see them here. This is unsurprising considering the product Steakholder Foods is focussed on supporting is still years away from being commercially available.

Surprisingly though, this level of transparency is refreshing. Alt-protein companies are typically guarded about financial performance (especially to journalists like me) - a symptom, no doubt, of the fear of speculative hawks perched at their PCs, looking for any excuse to sound a death knell for the industry as a whole. It’s reassuring, then, to see a startup acknowledging so openly their losses that result from investing in R&D that will power the future of food. 

Yet, this brings us to another unique aspect of Steakholder Foods: it’s a cultivated meat company with a very clear path to revenue streams. Typically, this is a difficult thing to forecast with any degree of certainty for cultivated meat companies, as commercial production is not yet in sight. But Steakholder Foods aren’t focussing on selling meat, at least not in the short term…

Building the Infrastructure for the Cultivated Meat Industry

Arik Kaufman, CEO and co-founder of Steakholder Foods, is comfortable talking about the financial prospects of an industry that has no track record to use as a reference. He does so candidly and frankly.

Steakholder Foods has two pillars to generate revenue streams. Selling cultivated steaks that we’ve printed is one of them, and it's years away (2028 at the earliest, according to Kaufman). In the near future, our focus is on licensing out or selling our sophisticated 3D printing technology to companies who are developing cultivated meat and hybrid products.

By focusing its go-to-market strategy on 3D printers, Steakholder Foods seeks to capitalize on the growing demand for infrastructure to cultivate meat. Industry experts have all reinforced the need for sweeping technological advances across the entire production process for cultivated meat before it can reach a meaningful level of scale. Steakholder Foods’ highly advanced bioprinting technology could help the industry to solve several existing problems, such as structuring cultivated meat. 

How Steakholder Foods’ Bioprinting Solutions Work

Steakholder Foods’ sophisticated 3D printing technology is designed to print whole cuts of cultivated meat. Their machines take bio-inks - cartridges of cells and media - and print them inside a meat-shaped matrix. The initial output looks more like a pixellated image of steak than an actual steak. After a few weeks of incubation, however, it becomes a high-definition textured slab of meat. 

Two things make the tech special according to Kaufman. 

What makes our technology so advanced is that we’ve developed a process to keep cells in just the right conditions so that 99% of them stay alive during the printing process. The cells need to stay alive to differentiate and form the natural structure and texture of our printed meat.

The software that our system uses is also important. It detects with a high degree of accuracy exactly where cells need to be printed inside the matrix to mature and achieve the right product consistency. Using this technology we can do some neat things like layering fat and muscle cells to create marbled beef textures.   

What’s more, the technology has been developed for scale from the outset according to Kaufman.

Since we set out to print meat, everything from our printers to our processes have been designed to be easily scalable so that we can go to market quickly.

Having already proven the potential of its product with several successful pilots, Steakeholder Foods appears to be in position to ramp up production of its tech and license it out. 

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The Cultivated Meat Industry Needs To Mature Before Demand for 3D Printing Takes Off

The question remains whether the technology alone will generate sufficient returns at this stage. The nascent cultivated meat industry faces production bottlenecks across the board.

On this aspect too, Kaufman is realistic.

The leading players in this industry earmark 2028 as the earliest time we’ll see commercial production of these products. But at this stage, no one really knows what commercial production of cultivated meat even looks like. Nobody has done it yet.

Another aspect is that this entire industry is bound up and needs to scale together. Advances need to be made in many different technological areas for cultivated meat to progress as a whole. For example, the cost of media needs to come down for our printers to be economically viable for a 100% cultivated meat product. 

So we understand that it will be some years before we’re printing our own products for sale. In the meantime, we’ll gradually build revenue streams with our printers, and here demand will grow as the industry grows.

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Signs That The Cultivated Meat Industry Is Growing

Kaufman is optimistic that the industry will indeed grow at anticipated rates.

Firstly, there’s a trend toward developing hybrid meat products - mixtures of plant-based ingredients and cells. A higher percentage of plant-based ingredients in Steakholder Foods bio-inks can bring the cost of printing way down, according to Kaufman.

This seems to be the way the industry is moving, and it will enable us to shorten our timelines significantly. That applies to both scaling our printing technology business and producing our own products.

Secondly, he explains there is a lot of interest in advancing the cultivated meat industry now from many different sides.

Startups are increasingly collaborating and working together to hit milestones. For example, we partnered with Umami Meats recently to help them achieve better textures for their products with our printing technology. 

We also see a lot of interest from large players in our technology but also cultivated meat as a whole. Involvement from big meat companies and bioscience companies can really help drive scale. If a bioscience giant leverages its production scale and develops media for cultivated meat and seafood products, then it would really drive the cost of production down. 

Continued interest and enthusiasm towards cultivated meat is vital at this stage if the industry is to grow. In fact, much more engagement at all levels is likely required.

Activating Steakholder Interest

This brings us back to the Nasdaq. Kaufman admits that there are pros and cons to being a publicly traded company on the world’s second-biggest stock exchange. 

We don’t have the same access to venture capital that a lot of our peers have, which definitely makes things harder. But at the same time, we don’t have to rely on VCs.

We have a much wider pool of potential investors. We believe that if we can activate the public’s interest in cultivated meat…in backing the future of protein, then the potential for investment is limitless. Admittedly, we haven’t been successful with this just yet.

Kaufman and the Steakholder Foods team are focused on activating stakeholder interest in cultivated meat. The company is actively engaging with partners, both startups and big players, around the world. For Kaufman, the US and APAC are key regions that are open to innovation. 

Later this year, Kaufman will be visiting Japan to explore new opportunities and collaborations for Steakholder Foods and hopefully stimulate interest from potential investors. 

So far, Japan has shown an open stance towards cultivated meat. Whether this signals the public would be keen to invest in it is another matter altogether. Japan is famously paradoxical when it comes to innovation, light years ahead in some aspects and decades behind in others. In this respect though, a highly sophisticated printer may be just the kind of product the Japanese can get on board with. Especially if it prints authentic seafood as well as meat.

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That’s All Folks

We hope you enjoyed reading today’s interview with the founder of the very fascinating Steakholder Foods. A huge thank you to Arik Kaufman and the team for supporting this interview.

See you next Tuesday!

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