Mzansi Meat: Africa’s First Cell-Based Meat Startup

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Founded this year, South Africa-based Mzansi Meat Co. is the first cell-based food tech to arrive in the continent. Using cellular agriculture technology, the company hopes to produce cruelty-free cell-cultured protein products, including products that are specifically tailored for traditional African dishes, from braai to shisanyama

Earlier this year in March, Jayson Van Der Walt and Brett Thompson started Mzansi Meat Co., the first cultivated meat company in the entire African continent. Instead of raising livestock and slaughtering animals for meat, the company is harnessing cellular agriculture technology to grow meat from cells. 

Currently, the startup is testing a wide range and combination of animal-free biomaterials, hydrogels, plant cellulose and yeast cultures to engineer the scaffolding for cells to grow around. The cell harvesting process the company uses exclusively serum-free culture medium and growth factors. 

“We’re working to bring tasty, healthy meat to your braais, potjie and shisanyama by growing it from cells instead of taking it from animals,” says the company on its website. “It is our hope to become a guiding light for responsible cellular agriculture practices and sustainably produced cultivated meat in Africa.”

Currently, Western-style processed meats such as sausages, burgers and nuggets are not widely consumed in Africa, with the exception of South Africa. Mzanzi Meat plans to produce slaughter-free cell-cultured minced beef, burgers and nuggets in the next few years, but their ultimate goal is to “produce meat that can be used in traditional food,” said the co-founders in a recent interview with Supertrends

We’re working to bring tasty, healthy meat to your braais, potjie and shisanyama by growing it from cells instead of taking it from animals. It is our hope to become a guiding light for responsible cellular agriculture practices and sustainably produced cultivated meat in Africa.

Mzanzi Meat Co.

Joining the co-founders is wildlife veterinarian Paul Bartels, who will serve as CEO of the startup. He has previously founded the Wildlife Biological Resource Centre and was involved in developing and banking the first White Rhino induced pluripotent stem cell line on the continent. 

Since its inception, Mzansi Meat Co. has already attracted the eyes of international investors, including Ryan Bethencourt, the founder and CEO of California vegan pet food brand Wild Earth and early-stage alternative protein investor. 

“Really excited by the incredible work that Paul Bartels, Jayson Claude Van Der Walt , Brett Thompson and the entire Mzansi Meat Co. are doing to transform the future of meat across Africa and the world,” said Bethencourt, in his social media announcement of his angel investment in Africa’s first clean meat company. 

We want to be perceived as a food company, and not as a tech brand. We have the benefit of the fact that cultivated meat is not known in Africa and South Africa, so people have not had a chance to build up their defences yet. Therefore, this flip side that not a lot of people know about cultivated meat is, at the same time, an opportunity.

Brett Thompson, Co-Founder of Mzanzi Meat Co.

Bethencourt has previously backed VeggieVictory, Nigeria’s first plant-based meat company developing locally manufactured and shelf stable vegan products suitable for Nigerian cuisine dishes, such as efo riro stews.

In the same interview with Supertrends, co-founder Thompson shared that being the first African cell-based startup, one of the challenges the company will face is consumer acceptance. 

“We will have to figure out how to overcome the consumer barriers,” explained Thompson. “We want to be perceived as a food company, and not as a tech brand. We have the benefit of the fact that cultivated meat is not known in Africa and South Africa, so people have not had a chance to build up their defences yet. Therefore, this flip side that not a lot of people know about cultivated meat is, at the same time, an opportunity”.


Lead image courtesy of Mzansi Meat Co.


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