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Eat Just’s meat alternative enters Chinese market with $25M Alibaba-backed investment

© Shutterstock / tilialucidaEat Just lab grown meat concept.

A Californian meat alternative company is set to enter the Chinese market thanks to a $25 million investment from C2 capital, a firm backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba Group. The move will help meet China’s growing demand for meat through sustainable alternatives.

C2 Capital Partners, an Alibaba-backed investment firm, has invested $25 million in Californian Eat Just’s GOOD Meat, a cultivated meat alternative.

Cultivated meat has a significantly smaller climate impact compared to conventional meat, which is a leading culprit of GHG emissions and deforestation.

China has a growing demand for meat, and has recognised the importance of developing cultivated meat and other alternatives to fulfil this demand while meeting the country’s climate goal.

Scaling up the availability of meat alternatives in China

Californian-based Eat Just is set to bring its cultivated meat to China. This follows the success of its popular plant-based egg product JUST Egg following its 2019 launch on e-commerce platforms, such as Alibaba’s Tmall.com in China.

C2 Capital Partners (C2) will back the product’s entry into the Chinese market by investing US$25 million and a strategic partnership to support marketing and regulatory strategies in order for Eat Just’s meat alternative to successfully scale its growth in the country.

Alibaba Group (NYSE:BABA) is the anchor investor of C2, an investment firm established in 2018 to support foreign companies’ growth in the Chinese market. China makes up for more than half of global online retail, and Alibaba is one of China’s e-commerce giants, accounting for 60% of the country’s B2C e-commerce market share along with JD.com

The new investment in Eat Just by the retail powerhouse will give the US company a significant foothold in the Chinese market, a market often difficult to enter by foreign companies. This could be a first step towards scaling up the availability of meat alternative options in China, a country whose demand for meat is quickly growing.

“We are excited to support alternative protein pioneer Eat Just’s mission and to accelerate the growth of their innovative products and technologies in China by leveraging the unique insights and resources of the C2/Alibaba ecosystem”, said C2’s managing partner Steve Lin.

GOOD Meat – a meat alternative that’s good for the planet

Eat Just has an array of sustainable protein options available, and GOOD Meat is the latest product available by the pioneering company. 

GOOD Meat is a cultivated high-quality meat produced by using chicken and cow cells, sourced “painlessly” from eggs or a living animal. The best cells are chosen and “immortalised” in a cell bank, where they can continue to divide and produce meat indefinitely.

In order to grow, the cells are placed in a bioreactor or “cultivator”  that provides the energy, nutrients and warmth needed for the cells to reproduce. The nutrients provided are similar to what an animal would need to feed itself, like amino acids, fats, and vitamins, and contains no antibiotics, growth hormones or GMOs.

After four to six weeks, the cells in the cultivator will have divided sufficiently to grow a product ready to be harvested. The harvested cells are then processed through moulding or 3-D printing to realise the end product that is in a shape or form familiar to meat consumers.

While the whole process may seem like it is out of a dystopian sci-fi novel, it is in reality a simple process that the company claims can produce “delicious meat with an identical nutritional profile to conventionally raised meat but with less impact on our plant and less risk of contamination”. 

So far, Singapore is the only country to approve the sale of GOOD Meat. The funding from C2 will help Eat Just navigate and overcome the regulatory hurdles in China to accelerate the approval of the product in the country.

The meat industry is a major contributor to climate change

Animal agriculture is one of the most harmful industries to the planet, being a leading source of carbon emissions, water usage and deforestation. 

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), livestock is responsible for 14.% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions globally. Nearly half of these emissions are methane, a GHG with a 100-year global warming potential that is 28 to 34 times more than carbon.

In addition to its high emissions, the meat industry also poses a threat to the climate through the sector’s mass deforestation activities, clearing important carbon sinks to make room for land to raise cattle and to grow feed for the livestock. 

The FAO estimates that livestock grazing is responsible for almost 40% of global forest loss, and much of the deforestation is in crucial tropical forests such as the Amazon, which are hubs of biodiversity and carbon sequestration.

The nonprofit World Wildlife Fund (WWF) estimates that the beef industry alone is responsible for one-quarter of global land use, land-use change and forestry emissions.

Deforestation and land use change are significant contributors to the world’s ability to mitigate climate change, as they impact biodiversity, soil quality, carbon sequestration potential and overall resilience to the impacts of climate change.

By cultivating meat from cells, GOOD Meat claims to emit 92% less carbon and use 95% less land compared to the conventional meat industry, making it a notably more sustainable option to fuel meat demand while limiting the impact on the planet.

Sustainable protein is important element of China’s five year plan

China is continuing to accelerate its economic development, lifting more and more of its citizens out of poverty and creating a large middle class. The emergence of this middle class is driving the country’s rapidly growing demand for meat products.

Since the 1980s, experts estimate that Chinese grain consumption has decreased by 50%, while meat consumption has increased by almost 75% in urban areas and by more than 130% in rural areas.

China is now the world’s largest consumer of meat according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), accounting for around 30% of the world’s total meat consumption. While there was a small drop in meat consumption in China in 2020 due to an outbreak of African Swine Fever and COVID-related supply chain disruptions, China’s hunger for meat is only expected to increase over the coming decade.

Globally, the FAO expects there to be a 14% increase in global meat consumption by 2030, with population and economic growth being the two major contributing factors to this increase.

90% of consumers in China would be open to eating lab-grown meat

Although China’s per capita consumption of meat is still a low 4.1 kg, compared to 26.3 kg in the US, the large population and rapid economic growth will mean that China’s demand for meat will continue to grow.

China has acknowledged the growing hunger for meat could pose a future food security and climate risk, and has prioritised the development of “future foods” that can meet demand more efficiently and limit climate impacts.

Under the country’s fourteenth five-year plan, an overarching policy document that sets the country’s long-term economic development goals and provides clear market signals for industry, China became the first government to recognise cultivated meat and other meat alternatives as a key area of research and development as part of their economic development guidelines.

Unlike many Western countries’ hesitancy to embrace cultivated meat as part of a more sustainable diet, a survey found that 90% of consumers in China would be open to eating lab-grown meat.

Considering China aims to become net zero by 2060, reducing emissions and environmental impacts of the country’s growing meat consumption will be crucial to achieve this goal – and solutions such as cultivated meat can be an important solution to meet this demand more sustainably. 

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