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South Korean food tech Seawith has set its sights on churning cell-based steak out to the masses for cheap. By the end of the decade, the company wants to produce cultured steak for costs as low as $3 per kilogram. It comes on the heels of revealing its plan to debut its first cell-based meat products to consumers at a pilot restaurant before the end of 2022.
Seawith, a South Korean cell-based meat startup, has made an ambitious target of producing cultured steak for as little as $3 per kilogram by 2030. The goal was revealed by the company’s co-founder and CTO Heejae Lee in a recent interview with FoodNavigator-Asia, where Lee also shared how its proprietary cell-culture technology that uses algae will be critical to bringing costs down.
Lee started Seawith with co-founder Joonho Keum two years ago, when the two came together during their PhD studies at the Daegu Gyeongbuk Institute of Science and Technology (DGIST).
$3 per kilogram by 2030
In the interview, Lee explained that the most expensive part of producing their cell-based meat is the remaining 10% of traditional cell culture media the company still relies on. So far, Seawith has managed to replace 90% with their own seaweed-based culture media and scaffolding.
Using algae, which is regionally abundant, is not only cost-efficient but also tackles the ethical issues associated with the use of fetal bovine serum (FBS), which is not slaughter-free as it is harvested from bovine fetuses.
“The scaffolding we have developed is based on seaweed, so as to hold the bovine cells that will grow into the steak as well as allow nutrients to penetrate deeper into the resulting tissue culture, which can make cultured meat cuts thicker than 1cm,” said Lee. “We have also developed our own culture media from microalgae – this holds the benefits of algae nutrition in addition to being much cheaper as microalgae is abundant.”
“By 2030, we aim to make 1 kilogram of meat for less than US$3 per kilogram – this is definitely doable once we get the technology right.”
Commercialising cell-based steak
In terms of its commercialisation plans, Seawith says that their domestic market in South Korea will be their first target. Earlier this year, the company revealed that it wants to be able to debut their first cell-based meats to diners at a pilot restaurant by the end of 2022. It will have to overcome regulatory hurdles to then launch commercially on the market, most likely through high-end restaurant foodservice.
To accelerate its go-to-market strategy, Lee says the startup is currently raising fresh funds, which will go towards scaling up its production capacity and expediting regulations and food safety tests.
“Seawith will be closing our Series A funding next month, and we estimate the funds to come in at around US$7 million,” he said. “We have two main plans…to obtain a bigger bioreactor for mass production to reach the industrialization stage more quickly, and also to help with all the necessary registrations, [such as] a HACCP-grade facility and biosafety certifications with the FDA.”
But Seawith is also eyeing Singapore and the U.S. as potential initial launch pads, pending the speed of regulations in South Korea. Singapore is building up its reputation as the region’s food tech innovation hub, famous for being the first to have approved the sale of cultured meat and home to cell-based players like Shiok Meats and Avant Meats, a Hong Kong company that has chosen to also establish a base in the city.
South Korea’s cell-based meat sector
While South Korea’s cultivated meat industry is still in its infancy, Seawith is not the only player working on bringing slaughter-free cell-based meat to diners plates in the country. Most recently, scientists in Sejong University debuted the country’s first-ever cultured pork prototype, and are now racing ahead to develop lab-grown beef.
In Seoul, DaNAgreen, a biotech that initially developed scaffolding for the biomedical industry, has now adapted its tech to create an entire platform for cellular agriculture protein production, from culture media to bioreactors. The company uses plant-based protein isolates to create its FBS-free scaffold and microcarrier materials.
Based between Gwangju and Seoul is CellMEAT, a company that wants to create a whole range of cultivated meats using their FBS-free technology. It recently bagged ₩5 billion in pre-Series A funding to scale up and lower production costs.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.