SoftBank, Cargill Back Cultured Meat Startup as Interest Swells

Memphis Meats produces cultivated meats including beef, chicken, duck and poultry, as well as seafood. ( Memphis Meats )

(Bloomberg) -- SoftBank Group Corp. is among a group of investors backing cultivated meat startup Memphis Meats Inc., underscoring the demand for alternatives with less impact on the environment.

Norwest Venture Partners and meat giant Cargill Inc. also invested in the funding round, which raised $161 million for the Berkeley, California-based company.

Memphis Meats produces meats including beef, chicken, duck and poultry, as well as seafood, by extracting cells from live or slaughtered animals or eggs and then growing them in nutrient-rich cell feed. It plans to use the money to expand its team and build a pilot production plant.

“This round is really intended to move from research and development to production, and start bringing it to the world,” said Uma Valeti, chief executive officer and co-founder of Memphis Meats.

The Series B funding round alone is about equal to all the publicly disclosed venture dollars that have been invested in the space so far, according to Nate Crosser, a business analyst at the Good Food Institute, a research and advocacy organization for plant-based and cell-based meat companies. He estimates that an additional 30% of deals have been done without being disclosed.

‘More Mainstream’

“2020 will be a year where getting involved in the cultivated meat industry becomes a lot more mainstream,” Crosser said, predicting that investment will go not only to the vertically integrated companies creating a product, but also to the business-to-business companies building the production equipment, software, and other necessary components the fledgling industry will need.

Memphis Meats’ total funding now exceeds $180 million, the company said in a statement. It hasn’t announced a product launch date, and said it’s working with regulatory agencies “to ensure a timely and safe market entry.” Entrepreneur Richard Branson has invested in the company, as has Tyson Foods Inc.

Even as awareness of the environmental impact of animal agriculture grows -- accounting for 14.5% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions -- meat consumption is expected to continue rising. This makes cell-based technology attractive even for unlikely investors.

“We look forward to the accelerated development and commercialization of these and other products,” said Elizabeth Gutschenritter, managing director of Cargill’s alternative protein team, in a statement to Bloomberg. This is Cargill’s second investment in Memphis Meats, and Gutschenritter noted Cargill has invested $1.5 billion in animal protein over the last three years.

“Keeping all options on the table will help feed people and deliver great-tasting meat for our customers.”


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