Green Queen in Conversation: Cultivated Meat Pioneers – Josh Tetrick of GOOD Meat
34 Mins Read
The below conversation is the transcript of the first episode of the podcast miniseries Green Queen in Conversation: Cultivated Meat Pioneers featuring Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of Eat Just and GOOD Meat, interviewed by show host Sonalie Figueiras. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
In the first episode of the Green Queen in Conversation podcast miniseries, Cultivated Meat Pioneers, I talk to Josh Tetrick, founder and CEO of Eat Just and GOOD Meat. I don’t know if you can have a conversation about cultivated meat without talking to Josh. This is someone who set himself a goal to be the first cultivated meat company in the world to gain commercial approval and who achieved it in a very short amount of time. I think that really changed the narrative and changed the game for the entire industry; it really brought cultivated meat to mainstream attention.
I’ve known Josh for a long time now. And he’s a force to be reckoned with, he’s extremely clear on his vision, and he’s unwavering in his execution. So, I’m really excited to share our conversation. We cover a lot of ground, including how it felt to make history, why he went for cultivated meat when he was already doing really well with plant-based eggs, and whether the industry has progressed enough. I’m sure you’re all going to love it. It’s hard not to be wowed by his dedication to the mission of creating a food system that is sustainable, nutritious, ethical, and slaughter-free.
Sonalie Figueiras: Hey, Josh, how are you? Thanks for joining me today.
Josh Tetrick: Hey, good to be with you.
Sonalie Figueiras: It’s been a really long time since we first met. I was thinking about it, I think it’s at least five or six years now.
Josh Tetrick: We met before the world commercialized cultivated meat before cultivated meat was ever sold.
Sonalie Figueiras: Absolutely, we met back in Hong Kong, and we were really meeting about Eat Just and all your work and plant-based eggs. So, I wanted to dive in on that front. Why did you decide to go into cultivated meat when you had Eat Just already, and you already had great traction? It’s a great product, I have it in my freezer at all times, and it seems like a big enough problem to solve. Why go for the cultivated meat challenge?
Josh Tetrick: “Why eggs?” – that’s a big enough problem to solve – about 2 trillion eggs were laid last year, and most of them were laid in a way that is not very good for our health, nor for the planet’s health, nor for the bird who’s laying the eggs’ health; but we thought we could do something else too. So, we wanted to have a “what’s next” after the egg and decided that making real meat without slaughter was a good “what’s next”, and we’d learned a lot about how to think about commercializing a food technology product. We’ve learned a lot about how consumers think about eating these different approaches to making everyday foods, and we thought those lessons about scaling up and consumer insights could put us in a place where we could make cultivated meat happen.
Sonalie Figueiras: Sure. Now, I want to dig a little deeper – when was the first time you came across cultivated meat technology? When did that moment happen where you went, “I think we can pursue this?”
Josh Tetrick: Well, probably the first time I came across it was 20 years ago. I think I was reading a paper about how NASA was exploring the technology for long-term space travel, and it was about six years ago that we decided to pursue it as the next product in the company; but it really just came from this understanding that people seem to like meat, they liked the taste of it, they liked the texture of it, they liked the smell of it, they liked the feeling of it. Is there a way to make that [meat] the same texture, the same taste, the same composition, but in a way that’s a lot better? Then we spent about eight months to a year talking to folks around the world about whether the technology was viable, about what needed to be done if we decided to pursue it, and then we decided to go after it and make it the thing that we focus on.
Sonalie Figueiras: How different is it to scale a plant-based egg versus pioneering a piece of cultivated chicken meat?
Josh Tetrick: The things that are similar are that you need food scientists, food engineers, product developers, and regulatory professionals, and people who are really smart with consumer insights, branding, awareness, and communications. That’s similar. The idea of making it is completely different. With a plant-based egg, you’re starting with a mung bean, then you’re separating protein from the mung bean, and you’re making the egg. With this, you’re starting with a cell. You’re identifying feed for the cell, think amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and salts and sugars, and then you’re scaling it up in a stainless-steel vessel. So, the kinds of talent that you need are pretty similar, but the whole process of making it is pretty different.
Sonalie Figueiras: So, the way you’ve explained it right there sounds really intuitive and makes sense, but when you first approached your board of investors, did they get it? Were they like, “Okay, yes, you were doing plant-based eggs, and now you’re going to do cultivated chicken, and these are different ways to solve essentially, the same broken food system problems?”
Josh Tetrick: I think some people did, some people didn’t. I think you can look at one hand and say, “If you want to do chicken or beef, why not just do plant-based chicken or beef? Why do cultivated meat? Our response is that we’re not a plant-based company. We’re a company that’s attempting to develop technology to displace conventional animal agriculture, and if that means that we’re going to separate protein from a mung bean, we’ll do it. If that means we’re going to cultivate meat, we’ll do it. If that means we’re about precision fermentation, we’ll do it. So, we’re not locked on a specific technology path, we’re more so locked on a specific effective path, and sometimes, I think plant-based can be a better approach, and sometimes I think cultivating can be a better approach. So that’s what we tell people.
Sonalie Figueiras: So again, that makes total sense intuitively; but what about consumers? Marketing is usually about distilling one idea, one product, one concept. Do you feel like there’s confusion, and especially as you get up to the point where you may eventually have your chicken in a store, or in more countries? Is it confusing to a consumer?
Josh Tetrick: Well, today, we don’t need to worry about it, because we just sell our cultivated meat, under our brand GOOD Meat in Singapore in a single butcher shop today. So, the only people that are buying it are people who live in Singapore, who are going to Huber’s Butchery. We’re still the only company in the world that has ever received regulatory approval to actually go on and sell it. Now, when we expand much wider – let’s say when GOOD Meat is in 40,000 points of distribution, when it is in thousands of Walmarts, Whole Foods, Shoprites, Publix’s, and restaurants all across the country, then I think you have a higher probability of confusion, but that’s why we decided to develop the GOOD Meat brand, and not call it “Just Meat”. So, it’s called GOOD Meat – it’s about cultivating meat, just like Just Egg is specific to what we’re doing on the eggs side. So, that’s just one way of differentiating the plant-based side from the meat-based side. However, it’ll be a good bit of time, I mean, you’re talking years out, until we actually have the manufacturing be able to get it across that many points of distribution. So, we’ve got some time to sort out how people think about it and whether they’re confused or not.
Sonalie Figueiras: It sounds like you have given this a lot of thought when you’re describing all the points of distribution. Do you have specific goalposts that you want to hit?
Josh Tetrick: It starts with what we want in the long-term, and what we want in the long-term is for cultivated meat to be the majority of meat that is produced on the planet. That’s the long-term [plan], and that’s not going to happen in 10 years. That’s a much longer lifetime, potentially a project over many lifetimes. Closer in, we want to continue selling products in Singapore at Huber’s Butchery, and we want to expand to more restaurants. As the year continues, and we already received FDA approval in the US, now it’s about USDA approval. Once we get that we want to launch with Jose Andres at one of his restaurants in DC [Editor’s Note: this already happened in July 2023, a few weeks after this episode was recorded]. And then as we build more infrastructure, meaning larger and larger vessels before the end of the decade, we want to make tens of millions of pounds of cultivated me at a cost that’s below conventional meat.
Sonalie Figueiras: So, tell me, for people who are not in the food industry. What percentage is tens of millions of pounds of cultivated meat compared to how much chicken is being consumed in the United States, for example?
Josh Tetrick: Much, much less than 1%? I would look at the trajectory of cultivated meat as being somewhat similar to electric cars. So, you can look at electric car production today, and depending on how you look at it, you can draw different conclusions. So, on the one hand, only 1% of the cars on the street right now are electric. That’s it, only 1%. With all the funding around electric cars, all the consumers and all your friends who might be driving around, globally, today, only 1% are electric cars.
However, double-click on that, and then you say – well, what about in certain areas like Norway and Sweden? So, over 60% of the cars on the road over there are electric. Then what about new cars that are manufactured? I think that’s roughly about 20% of new cars that are manufactured electric. Then, you look at announcements of big companies like Ford, GM, etc., and they say they’re moving entirely away from conventional gasoline-produced cars by 2032-2035. So, the seeds of change are being planted, and I think you’ll see the same thing with cultivated meat. So, even though by the end of the decade, we’re talking tens of millions of pounds, and even though that is a lot less than 1%, that’s how stuff starts, right? That’s how you build a foundation to ultimately cultivated meat being the only kind of meat that’s produced.
Sonalie Figueiras: Does it ever feel too daunting? When you think in terms of multiple lifetimes, for example? Do you ever think it’s just so hard, and will we ever get there?
Josh Tetrick: Well, it is very daunting. It is very hard. It is very challenging. It is very uncertain, and it is very long-term. If you don’t accept those things, you should not be in the cultivated meat business, that is for sure. Those things are very true.
However, what I think is also true is that the alternative is less palatable: The alternative where meat production continues to grow, and more and more people are eating meat. Now, I’m plant-based myself, except for the fact that I eat cultivated meat (I had a piece of cultivated chicken this afternoon), but we live in a world where I think the majority of people are eating meat. As much as I wish that they would choose beans instead of meat, which is so much healthier, and I wish that everyone would right now, and we wouldn’t even be needed, that’s a hard world to imagine.
However, yes, this is a very long-term, very uncertain project. Sometimes, when folks are asking a hard question where they’re criticizing it, they might say this is very challenging, very long-term, and very uncertain. So, what do you say to them? I say, “That’s right, I agree,” and they say “Therefore, what? We and others shouldn’t do it?” Then our response is, “Let’s give it a try. Let’s see what we’ve got. Let’s see what we can do.”
Sonalie Figueiras: Absolutely! You’re human, and it just sometimes might feel like this is really hard, but it sounds like you accept it as a part of the rules of the game, which I think is probably the way to see it.
Josh Tetrick: I wish you could build the infrastructure faster. I wish that instead of tens of millions of pounds before the end of the decade, it was billions of pounds before the end of the decade. I wish instead of costing billions to build the infrastructure, it was millions to build the infrastructure. I do wish all those things, but you know, that’s not the reality of it. So, we’ve got to deal with it and realize that just because something takes many decades, all those things have to start somewhere. And the sooner we get started, the sooner they’ll get done.
Sonalie Figueiras: What can make it go faster? Is it is it more money? Is it the government putting money behind this? If you had more billions, could you build the infrastructure faster?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, a lot of things can make go faster. So, certainly, more capital invested in the industry, so if you had instead of hundreds of millions, you had hundreds of billions, you would go faster. You could build infrastructure faster, you could design and engineer the vessels. You could hire more people, you could accelerate research and development, for sure more capital would make it go faster, and that additional capital could come from private investors or certainly come from the government. So, I think governments getting behind it could also make it go faster: The US government, China, governments in the Middle East, those governments deciding that cultivated meat is more than just about mitigating climate change, it’s about food security, that could help it go faster. So yeah, certainly it doesn’t have to be, you know, many lifetimes.
Sonalie Figueiras: Okay, so more money and more attention and more governmental support would accelerate this, 100%.
Josh Tetrick: No question.
Sonalie Figueiras: This is not just a technology-specific problem to solve, it’s more of a resources problem as well.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, I think the technology is here for simpler products. So, for our chicken that people eat at Huber’s Butchery: it’s good-tasting chicken, and people like it. Could it be better? Sure. Could it be on a bone? Sure. Could we have, you know, delicious Kobe steak instead of the chicken? Might that be better? Sure, but the chicken is good. So, we know how to manufacture meat and convert it into a finished product that people will like. So, for the simpler products, it’s here now, but for more complicated stuff – bluefin tuna, and more complicated textures, the technology is not here yet, but you know, roughly half the meat that is sold is simple stuff: ground beef, sausages, chicken nuggets, and chicken strips, you know, we can do all that now.
Sonalie Figueiras: You’ve mentioned Huber’s Butchery a few times and we’re talking about, you know, many lifetimes of progress to go, but you did do this one incredible thing: you made history in December 2020, just a couple of years after you announced that you were working on GOOD Meat, you got the world’s first cultivated meat regulatory approval! People in Singapore could go and buy chicken at that point, it was in restaurants, and even at hawker stalls. Now, it’s at the butchery. How did that happen? When did you decide that you were going to go for that, and did you consciously decide you wanted to be the first to get that regulatory approval and get that commercialization?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, definitely, we definitely consciously wanted to be the first, and we thought about places that would be the most likely to approve it, and Singapore was at the top of the list, just knowing that Singapore is a very forward-thinking country who cares a lot about food security; they have an initiative called “30-by-30”, where they aim to get 30% of their food produced in the country by the end of the decade. So, knowing all these things, we felt that Singapore was a good first place to apply to. So, we applied sometime in 2018, and then we waited and answered questions from their regulatory body about, “where the cell came from?”; What do you feed the cell? How do you manufacture it? How do you ensure the safety? What is the microbiological profile? How is it different than conventional chicken? “How do you know it’s safe?”, and 90 other questions like that, and then we got the approval in November 2020. We went on to actually serve it at a restaurant in a restaurant called 1880, and that was the first time that cultivated meat had ever been sold in the world. We definitely wanted to be the first. We thought it would send out a message to the food industry, and to consumers around the world that this idea of making meat without slaughter is not science fiction, but it is on plates right now, even at that very small scale.
Sonalie Figueiras: So, you went in there, chose Singapore, and thought, that’s the country?
Josh Tetrick: We did. Yeah, we didn’t think the US was the place.
Sonalie Figueiras: Right, that was my follow-up. I mean, you’re American, you know, you’re from the US. So why not the US as the first country?
Josh Tetrick: It just didn’t seem like the USDA or the FDA at the time were really looking at this. In that way, it felt like Singapore was in a place where they were more than ready to address it. We ended up also applying to the FDA, but it just felt like Singapore was ahead of the curve, and we wanted to get to the market sooner.
Sonalie Figueiras: What do you think makes the difference between governments that are ahead of the curve, and others that are not so much? For example, seeing what’s going on in Italy where they’re thinking about passing a ban, or with the EU, where they are a little bit more conservative, even though the first cultivated meatball was actually created in the Netherlands, in Europe. How do you look at governments’ attitudes, and why are some governments just pro-cultivated meat and want to support the industry, and others are thinking of passing bans?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah. Well, I still think that we’re very, very early in the industry. So, it definitely is to be determined how a lot of these governments decide to look at it. I think that typically, when you have governments that are pro-innovative, and there’s a food security issue, they’re going to want to be the first to jump, and Singapore was the first to jump at this, right? They’re very pro-innovative, developing new technologies in the country, and they’ve got a food security issue. So, that’s the combination that’s going to get you cultivated meat regulated sooner.
The US has now been ahead of the curve on it too, the FDA has approved two companies, including ours, and the USDA is actively engaged in this [Editor’s Note: GOOD Meat received USDA regulatory approval a few weeks after this conversation took place]. So, I think sometimes people look at the US and think it’s behind the curve, but at least our experience with regulators, they’ve been ahead of the curve on this. I think it’s a mindset of people who are in government about how they think about innovation, how they think about tradition versus developing new things, and how open they are to new technologies.
Sometimes, you know, being conservative about new things is a good thing. There are a lot of food products that are not sold in Europe today that I think are rightfully not sold in Europe today, and that’s a good thing. However, I think you have to have a balance of really understanding when to lean into innovation and when to be a bit more cautious, but I think when we look at the regulatory landscape, even if we were approved by every country in the world today, we’re going to be producing exactly the same amount of cultivated meat this year. It’s not as if twenty more approvals mean millions of more pounds, we got approval in America, or at least the FDA and waiting on the USDA, and Singapore, and we have got our hands full with just those two markets, but I definitely want more countries to open up to it, and I think they will.
Sonalie Figueiras: What do you think people are getting wrong about the science of cultivated meat? Let’s talk about consumer perception because the media has been a little messy around this, and as you say, it’s human to question you and to be cautious. However, there’s also been, I would say, an unhealthy degree of misinformation to some extent. If you were talking to a sceptic, what are people getting wrong?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, really good question. I think there are a number of things that people are getting wrong. So, in no particular order: Sometimes people think cultivated meat is plant-based meat, and I’m a big fan of plant-based meat, but cultivated meat is different from plant-based meat, and plant-based meat is different from conventional meat. Those are three different approaches to making to making meat. So, that’s one [thing people get wrong]. Sometimes I’ll do a whole presentation in front of a group of people, and they’ll ask what plants are we using to make this. So, it’s important to understand that cultivated meat is from a cell, not a bean. If you have a chicken allergy and you have our chicken at Huber’s, you’re going to have an allergic outbreak, it’s still real meat.
The second thing that people get wrong about it is that they’ll say it is this moniker of lab-grown. Now, when we make meat today, both in Singapore and when will produce it for the US market, we do lab research, but we don’t make our products in the lab. Just like Danone does research for yogurt in the lab, they don’t make yogurt in a lab. So, I think in the really early days of cultivated meat, and we’re still in the early days, this whole idea of, you know, taking it out of a petri dish and serving it on a plate was right. That’s not how it is today. Now, these manufacturing facilities I’m talking about are very small, but nonetheless, they are manufacturing facilities – the ones in the US that will be regulated by the USDA, those are not a lab, right? So, that’s the second thing I think people get wrong.
The third thing is, one might say it’s too hard to scale as well, and when I hear that criticism my answer is it’s really hard to scale it up, but “really hard” is different than “impossible” to scale up. So, it requires a ton of investment, time, energy and technical knowledge to scale it up, but it is still very much within the realm of what is possible to do, it is just a big technical and epic capital challenge.
The fourth thing that people get wrong is they think fetal bovine serum or FBS is necessary to do it. It’s not. It was in the early days, and now we actually received approval in Singapore to commercialize our meat without it. We’ve removed it in our R&D facility over the last couple of years. It was a technical challenge, it’s not anymore. So, people should stop thinking that it’s this big barrier because it’s not.
Then maybe, finally, skeptics would say, well, consumers don’t want it. Unfortunately, the only consumer real-life consumer examples we have are in Singapore. I wish we had more, but that’s all we’ve got, and what we have found in Singapore is people say they would eat this instead of regular meat: When they buy it, they consume it, and they hang out with their friends as they’re eating it. They say, “You know what, I would choose this instead.”
So, those are some basic criticisms and how we would address them. Some of the things about cultivating meat, to an everyday person, would sound kind of strange. I think it’s not. We shouldn’t expect that someone hears about the process of making cultivated meat and immediately say, “Oh, that sounds amazing! I want to eat that!”
It’s not every day that you can make meat from a cell instead of slaughtering a live animal. So, I think you also have to be a bit patient with people and know that this is a brand-new thing, and you’ve got to explain it. You’ve got to be really open about it, and not everyone is going to like it right away because not everyone likes anything right away, but you’ve still got to go after it.
Sonalie Figueiras: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s so interesting, because you did launch in Singapore, and the early data shows that Asian consumers tend to be more open to cultivated meat. There was also this really interesting study that was done in Singapore earlier this year about how people who have higher well-being tend to be more open to consuming cultivated meats. Do you think about why there seems to be a bigger openness in Asia? Or do you just think we don’t have enough information yet to really understand?
Josh Tetrick: I think we probably don’t have enough information yet. I’ve become really skeptical of data that’s not real-world consumers eating something because you can ask questions in a lot of different ways to try to get at things. Generally, I feel like you’re going to get a much better sense of how a consumer thinks about it when it’s widely available, when they’ve eaten it and when they have really experienced it. That’s why the data from consumers in Singapore who have actually bought GOOD Meat and eaten it is our most valuable data. I trust that data more than I trust, you know, surveying a million people, whether it’s good for us or bad for us, doesn’t matter, I just trust it more, because it is more like a direct experience. However, I think generally the younger you are, the more open you are to it. I think the more educated you are, the more open you are to it. I think the more urban you are, the more open you are to it. I think those things are correlated with an openness to it.
I used to be frustrated because I would have liked everyone to want it, you know, now, but again, no product is like that. No product that’s launched, do you suddenly have everyone on the planet wanting it. You always have to build from a base. You know, Coca-Cola was launched in Atlanta at these high-end social clubs and farms, right?
Sonalie Figueiras: Given everything that we’re talking about how consumers are thinking about it, and, you know, human psychology and consumer behavior, how should the industry be thinking about consumer perception, and is the industry doing enough? I struggle with this because as you’ve said many times, it’s super early, there’s only one country, one company (yours) who’s even making cultivated meat that anyone can taste. Should there be work being done now to open people’s minds, or is it too early? How do you think about that? How do you think the industry at large should be thinking about that?
Josh Tetrick: I struggle with that a little bit. I think I lean towards yes. I just think you have to do it in a way that you don’t delude yourself, because just asking thousands of people to fill out a survey without food in front of them can be a recipe for deluding yourself about, you know: “Here’s a description of what cultivated meat is, and here’s how it smells, and here’s that. So, do you like it? So, it is hard, but I think some data is probably better than not having any.
There are lots of important questions that are asked like – what don’t you like about it? We ask that question a lot, and often what we hear is: “Well, what I don’t like about it is I don’t understand it. What I don’t understand is, what do you mean you make meat from a cell? What do you mean you feed the cell? What the hell is a bioreactor? What does that look like? What’s in the bioreactor? What do you mean you harvest the meat? All these terms, I deal with every day, right, but to an everyday person, they’ve never even thought about that before.
So, I think asking people what it is about it that gives them a concern, what gives them the pause, what do they think it should be called. I think there’s been a lot of valuable work that’s been done in this area, and what we and others have found is that using the word “cell”, using words like “cell-based”, or “cell-cultured”, or certainly “lab-grown”, is not effective with consumers. Using words like “cultivating meat”, or “cultured” is typically number two and ends up being a lot better, and I think that’s valuable data, and we use “cultivated” in Singapore very much because of that data.
I think all this data is also really important, because governments look at it, and investors look at it. When a government is deciding whether they should fund this, they’re going to be looking at some data. So, I think having that data out there, again, even if it’s incomplete, even if it’s imperfect, I still think it’s important, but when the product actually gets out there in the real world, to many more people, that’ll be the most important kind of data.
Sonalie Figueiras: What about marketing? Should you be doing marketing campaigns? Should the industry get together and do a massive campaign about cultivated meat, and you know, what it means and what it is?
Josh Tetrick: I don’t think so yet. I mean, we do marketing in Singapore. So, we do marketing around our Huber’s launch, we do marketing whether it’s bringing influencers around, billboards, and other all sorts of different activations we do, and we’ll do marketing when we launched in the US with Chef Jose Andres. We’ll make a big deal out of it, we’ll have lots of media attention, maybe a billboard or two around it.
I don’t think we need a national kind of marketing campaign quite yet. I think most consumers will look at that, and be like, “It’s just too early.” Now, maybe in three, six, or nine months, once it’s in the market in the US more people are talking about it, then maybe. Maybe, but honestly, I don’t have that good a feel on how early it should start. I think the part of me that thinks it should start earlier is you don’t want opinions to get sort of solidified in people’s heads, and that can happen, you know.
Sonalie Figueiras: That’s my concern as a journalist, and seeing what’s going on in the media and the headlines, I’m wondering: “Should we be covering this narrative, or having a narrative of our own”? But again, as you say, food is real, food is tangible. So, I hear you on that, and I think you’re right.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, it’s a hard one. I think there’s a case to be made for both because opinions can get calcified, but on the other hand, if I saw a cultivated meat commercial and I was sitting in my home I would think: “This is not even going to be available to me for another two years, like what are we talking about?
Sonalie Figueiras: But I mean, to some extent, it would be interesting to see how early there were EV (electric vehicle) commercials.
Josh Tetrick: True.
Sonalie Figueiras: Although, while I appreciate the EV parallel, food is not cars, unfortunately. There is a difference for people. I hear you on the marketing, but there does seem to be this kind of politicization of food choices that is becoming more pervasive, especially in the US, and it’s spilling over to Europe, and food really is this kind of identity topic for people, you know, it’s your grandmother’s baked cake, or it’s your mom’s lasagna. How do we navigate that, because “new” always seems to be on the other side of the fence when it comes to the ultimate food, that is, you know, pure, and from the land, natural, and home-grown?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, that’s a hard one, you’re right. Food is different than a car. Food is much more about identity, and stories that we have about ourselves and where we’re from.
One of my food stories is about how my mom used to make me chicken wings when I got off the bus in middle school, and even though I know the horrible conditions of animals, viscerally I understand it, but when I think about the chicken wings, I think about how it’s a feel-good experience, because my mom was caring for me as I got off the bus, right? That’s, I guess, bizarre in a way, because I know what’s behind it, but on the other hand, I can’t take my mom and her love from me in that moment out of my story. So, the identity piece is a really significant one, and I think the ways that you can deal with it are trying to figure out how to serve and talk about cultivated meat in a way that speaks to identity.
One example of how we did that in Singapore is we launched this local hawker stall with a street vendor named Mr. Loo, and Mr. Loo has been making chicken curry rice for 60 years. Mr. Loo is not high-end, he’s an everyday person, but he makes super tasty food, and we wanted to launch with Mr. Loo, because we wanted to make a point about cultivated meat and the identity around it, that it could work with tradition. It could work with something that your father and his father had, and I think looking for opportunities to tap into the tradition piece plus forward-thinking cuisine, like what we are doing with Chef Jose Andres when we launch with him is important. I think about putting it in all sorts of more traditional dishes and having people and influencers representing that side of it, that is going to be important.
Another way you can get politicians behind this is to build stuff in their district. Biotech is a really good example of this. So, biotech is booming in North Carolina. North Carolina is…
Sonalie Figueiras: It’s a triangle.
Josh Tetrick: Exactly! As a Southern state, mostly Republican citizens, mostly Republican senators, and congressmen and congresswomen, but man, they are so into biotech, and it’s not about left or right, it’s about biotechnology creating jobs for the state of North Carolina. So, I think if you can show that this is creating real jobs, and it’s having a real meaningful impact to the economy, I think that’s a way to mitigate some of the sharper edges around about making it political. However, you’re not going to stop someone like Marjorie Taylor Greene, from getting involved. She’s gonna do her thing.
Sonalie Figueiras: “She’s gonna do her thing.” [laughter].
Josh Tetrick: No matter what, but she’s got to deal with it.
Sonalie Figueiras: Yeah, but I like that. I like the idea of looking for ways to communicate the traditional identity with the new technology. So, when you did that in Singapore, with the hawker and Mr. Loo, was it overwhelmingly positive? Did your thesis work, in the sense that people feel like, “Oh yeah, this is the kind of the food I love, you know, chicken satays, and it’s just made in a different way. It’s better for the planet and for our health!”
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, it did. I mean, the most important person was Mr. Loo. The guy has been running it for 50-60 years, and he felt that way. He went from resisting it, right, this is a new, weird thing made in a stainless-steel vessel to, “Wait, this works really well in my chicken curry rice dish, this sounds good,” and we’re not better than Mr. Loo, right? We work with what he’s doing, and this is not about making food that is too high-end for Mr. Loo, right? It has to work in that context. It has to work on a grill in a backyard in Birmingham, Alabama before a football game. I think the more that we and other companies can make it work there, the more we will win.
Sonalie Figueiras: That must have felt good, right, when he came around and liked it? I mean, being an entrepreneur is hard. Over the years with the GOOD Meat journey, specifically, what have been some of the days or moments that just felt like a really big win and felt really incredible?
Josh Tetrick: Well, definitely the day we got regulatory approval…that was November 2020.
Sonalie Figueiras: Where were you? What were you doing? Tell me the story.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah. I was in Boulder, Colorado, and I was actually laying on the floor, because I thought we were going to get it that night, and I was just waiting for a phone call from a person named “Kat” on the regulatory team. Then she gave me a call, I woke up, and that was incredible. When we actually launched in late 2020, on December 24th, we put it on the plate, and people ate it, and I saw a receipt. I really wanted to see the receipt, you know, when someone puts their credit card down, you’ve got a receipt, that’s not a sample anymore, that is a sale, and that was what I wanted. So, that was a really big moment. Then probably more recently, when we got FDA approval, that was pretty significant. That’s just about a month and a half ago.
Sonalie Figueiras: Yeah, that was really recent. That’s just now!
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, yeah, and I think the next one will be when we actually launch in the US, with Chef Jose Andres, you know, he’s such a leader in the world of food.
Sonalie Figueiras: Let’s talk more about that. I mean, he’s a food saint. How do you know him, and how did that happen?
Josh Tetrick: I’ve met him through the years at different conferences and things, and when we knew that at some point, we were going to launch in the US, I reached out to him and just began talking to him about what it would look like for him to be the person that we launched with. He’s always open.
Sonalie Figueiras: Was he initially skeptical? What was his take on cultivated meat, given he represents this idea of home-grown, artisanal, organic food?
Josh Tetrick: He wanted to know more about it. So, he wanted me to walk through the process with him. He wanted to know what it means to go from a cell to chicken. He wanted to know about what a bioreactor is. He wanted to talk to a research and development team. So, he didn’t say yes right away, he wanted to learn more. Right away, he wanted to know what the skeptics were saying, right? How are people criticizing it, and what do I agree with in terms of people criticizing it? So, we went through all that with him, and he made the decision that we needed to figure out a different approach to making meat for billions of people. That doesn’t mean, now I’m sharing his point of view, that someone who’s making some high-end lamb in Patagonia is now suddenly displaced. However, as we’re thinking about a growing population, and how the heck you feed so many people, given that we don’t have a bigger planet, I think he realizes that you need a different approach, and he thinks that this is a part of it.
Sonalie Figueiras: That’s awesome. He’s pretty special. I’d feel really awesome about that. He’s definitely someone I think that can really get consumers in. He’s just someone who really understands food and food culture, but he also is someone who has a really big social role with regard to food inequality, food access, and the quality of food that different types of people eat based on their socio-economic background.
I want to dig a little deeper on this because I know that in quite a few of your interviews, you’ve spoken about this idea that capitalism can create positive social change. The world feels very unequal in many ways, particularly with food access, in that there is less hunger, and there is better nutrition across the board, but there’s also rising inequality, and it does feel like there is a sort of elite population around the world that is getting access to better and better food, while mass available food becomes worse and worse, in terms of health and the way it’s produced with industrial agriculture.
Do you still think that capitalism is ultimately the force for good? Where do you see this, given where we are today? Also, in terms of cultivated meat, this idea that for some people, there’s a worry that cultivated meat is just going to slot into this kind of elite food structure and be something for the elites, because of its costs and barriers to entry?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, well, I don’t think capitalism is in itself a force for good. I think capitalism is a system that can be a force for horrible things, and a force for really good things, depending on what the intent behind the company, the product, and the service is. Factory farming is capitalism. And plant-based milk is capitalism. Coal-fired power plants are capitalism, and the farmers’ market is capitalism. It’s a system to make a good or a service, and it just depends on what the intention is.
I don’t think it’s the only way to make stuff happen. I think you can do it through nonprofits and do it through the government, and I think in probably most cases it is the most effective, but again, sometimes that effect is a negative one. The most effective way to do something, I do often think, is through capitalism.
I think if someone is motivated to make cultivated meat, and they want to make as much as they can, at the lowest cost they can, so, as many people can buy it, and they can make as much money as they can. I would say, it sounds good because ultimately, you’re going to have a big impact on this planet; I’m gonna be a supporter of yours.
I think cultivated meat, just like electric cars to an extent, will be for people who have a lot of money and who are highly educated initially, there’s just no getting around it because that’s often the deal with any product. That was the deal with cereal. That was the deal with Coca-Cola. That was the deal with computers. That was the deal with the iPhone. That was the deal with the cell phone, right? It often is that initially, but can it cross that bridge from: “Alright, it’s this elite thing and a social club”, to something that’s available to the everyday person in Morgantown, West Virginia, and Birmingham, Alabama, where I was raised, and that will be determined by our company’s ability to actually make a lot at a low cost. If we’re able to do it, it will be out there, but if we’re not able to do it, then, you know, we’ll have fallen short.
Sonalie Figueiras: You sure have tried.
Josh Tetrick: Yeah.
Sonalie Figueiras: Well, on the back of that, then what keeps you up at night? For work, I mean.
Josh Tetrick: You know, it’s just more like mundane things. Like, you know, it could be like a particular technical challenge that we’re having. It could be a hire that we’re trying to make. Or, a restructure of a team
Sonalie Figueiras: So tactical stuff?
Josh Tetrick: Yeah, tactical stuff. I mean, I don’t stay up at night thinking about the lifetime project of cultivated meat, I sort of accept that it is what it is. It’s more of the tactical stuff and the chores that keep me up.
Sonalie Figueiras: What does success look like to you? Do you see yourself being the CEO of Eat Just and GOOD Meat for a good long while? Other than what you want for the industry, which is like, “In a few lifetimes, the majority of meat is made using cellular agriculture.” However, for you personally, what is success? What are you aiming for?
Josh Tetrick: It’s to do everything I can, through the people that we hire, technology that I’m pushing, capital that I’m raising, interviews that I’m giving, to increase the probability that cultivated meat as the main source of meat in the food industry happens sooner. Professionally, using my life in that way gives me a lot of fulfillment. Even though it is really hard, even when there’s only trying, even though it can be really frustrating, even though it can make you nauseous sometimes, I feel that to be useful, to feel like you’re doing everything you can to try and increase the likelihood of something so good happening- that’s what I want, and I hope to be doing this leading the company for a long time. This is where I think I could be the most effective, but yes, I feel like every day, I’m being useful in that way. Just from a professional sense, that is success to me.
Sonalie Figueiras: I love it. I agree. Thank you so much, Josh for an incredible conversation. I really appreciate it. Thank you.
Josh Tetrick: You bet. Thank you too.
Green Queen In Conversation is a podcast about the food and climate story hosted by Sonalie Figueiras, the founder and editor-in-chief of Green Queen Media. The show’s first season, Pioneers of Cultivated Meat, explores cultivated meat, a future food technology on a mission to produce animal protein sustainability. In each of the six episodes, Sonalie interviews the pioneers of the industry, asking the hard questions about one of the most exciting food + climate innovations of our time and sharing the personal story behind each founder’s journey.
Green Queen In Conversation is a co-production from Green Queen Media and Cheeky Monkey Productions. This episode was produced by Joanna Bowers and hosted by Sonalie Figueiras.