California-based cultivated meat company Upside Foods has announced $400 million in a Series C funding round, bringing its total funding to more than $600 million and its valuation to more than $1 billion—an industry first.
The leading producer of cultivated meat has closed its Series C funding led by Temasek and Abu Dhabi Growth Fund (ADG). The largest funding round in the cultivated meat space, Upside Foods says the round will accelerate its path to commercialization.
“Upside has reached an historic inflection point, moving from R&D to commercialization,” Dr. Uma Valeti, CEO and Founder of Upside Foods, said in a statement. “Our team at Upside continues to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges in our mission to make our favorite food a force for good. Working in partnership with our world-class coalition of investors, we’re excited to bring delicious, sustainable and humane meat to the consumers around the world.”
Upside launched the cultivated meat industry with its formation in 2015; it says the new funding will further support the industry with the build-out of a commercial-scale facility, development of its supply chain for cell feed media, and efforts to dispel myths and educate consumers on the value of cultivated meat.
Funding and scaling
Following its Series B funding round in 2020, Upside has been scaling production. Last November, it announced a $50 million factory located in Emeryville, California, which it says can produce 400,000 pounds of cultivated meat per year. The new funding is expected to bring a larger facility than can produce tens of millions of pounds of cultivated meat. The company says chicken will be its first product to market, but beef and duck are also in the works.
Additional investors include Baillie Gifford, Givaudan, John Doerr, SALT fund, and Synthesis Capital. They are joined by existing investors Bill Gates, Cargill, Cercano Management, CPT Capital, Dentsu Ventures, Singapore-based global investor EDBI, Kimbal and Christiana Musk, Norwest Venture Partners, SoftBank Vision Fund 2, SOSV’s Indie Bio, and conventional meat giant Tyson Foods.
“We’re excited to support this next chapter of Upside Foods’ growth,” said Brian Sikes, COO of Cargill. “Our continued support for Upside’s innovative work underscores Cargill’s commitment to an inclusive approach to wholesome, sustainable protein that will meet customer and consumer needs now and in the future.”
The company also recently added Whole Foods Market founder and CEO John Mackey as an investor. That could mean the cultivated meat would find a home inside the leading supermarket chain that has long been hesitant around food tech, eschewing the controversial biotech behind genetically modified organisms. As its name implies, Whole Foods Market has been better known for its commitment to organic and regeneratively-grown products that are healthier and more sustainable.
But cultivated meat is aiming to get a foothold in those conversations as well. Unlike conventional animal farming methods, cultivated meat is far less resource-intensive. The industry has long upheld that it is safer, too, without the common contamination risks of raising live animals. Cultivated meat producers say the products, which are grown from live animal cells, could be designed to be healthier than animal protein by reducing cholesterol and other risk factors.
Temasek, which co-led the round with ADG, is Singapore-based. The nation-state is currently the only country in the world that’s approved the sale of cultivated meat. Good Meat, which is produced by the Bay Area food tech company Eat Just, went to market in Singapore in 2020. But regulatory approval elsewhere has been a slower process.
In the U.S., it could be another 18 months or longer before Upside and the growing number of companies now populating the space see approval in the U.S.
In 2019, the FDA and USDA announced plans to collectively oversee the industry to ensure safety. It took public comments last September.
Even despite cursory approvals, the industry could face hurdles in coming to market. Cultivated meat has received a fair amount of pushback over questions on its safety and scalability. That could put it on a trajectory similar to Aqua Bounty’s AquAdvanage salmon. Regulatory approval of the transgenic fish was delayed for years after a 2010 FDA advisory panel found little risk to the environment or human health. The agency took public comments on the fish in 2013, extending its review before approval came in 2015. But it was delayed again, not seeing its first U.S. sales until last year.
If regulatory approval comes swiftly to the U.S. cultivated meat sector, Upside says it plans to be available to consumers later this year.
Lead image courtesy of Upside Foods.