Cultivated fat startup Mission Barns raises $24M to scale up


Dive Brief:

  • Cellular agriculture startup Mission Barns has raised a $24 million Series A round from a long list of investors with deep ties to the plant-based and fermented animal products segments, including Gullspang Re:Food (an Oatly investor), Humboldt Fund (NotCo, Geltor), Green Monday Ventures (Beyond Meat, Perfect Day) and Enfini Ventures (Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats). 
  • The company will use the new funding to build a pilot manufacturing plant in the San Francisco Bay Area and scale up its Mission Fat technology, which involves feeding cells from a pig, chicken, or cow to plant-based feedstocks inside a cultivator. The process leads to pure animal fat, which can improve the palatability and flavor of meat alternatives, while emitting far less carbon and using less water and land than conventional meat, according to the startup.
  • Mission Barns has developed products that use Mission Fat both on its own and in partnership with meat and plant protein companies, including bacon, breakfast patties, burgers, nuggets, dumplings, hot dogs, poultry sausages and meatballs.

Dive Insight:

As the plant-based protein craze continues to gain momentum, companies are looking for ways to improve the meat-like quality of their products. This not only helps consumers make the swap from conventional meat counterparts, but it also provides a leg up over the growing competition in the plant-based segment.

One of consumers’ biggest grievances with plant-based meat has been its inability to replicate the fatty flavor and mouthfeel of animal-based meat. Figuring out the fat problem has been a priority for many product manufacturers. At least two-thirds of plant-based food companies are open to adding cultivated fat to their products to see if it can boost the flavor profile and consumer satiety, according to a study from Peace of Meat, a cultivated fat startup.

Mission Barns has already been busy testing its cultivated fat with consumers. In August 2020, the Berkeley, California-based startup gave out free samples of its Mission Bacon, which combined cell-cultured pork with plant-based proteins. As one of the fattiest cuts of meat, bacon is a bold choice and good opportunity for Mission Barns to demonstrate whether its cultured fat is convincing enough for consumers. Considering that 89% of plant-based meat buyers are still eating meat, according to data from the NPD Group, being able to replicate the right fatty flavor profile is critical for the segment to gain share.

The startup has also caught the attention of traditional meat companies, which are curious about plant-animal hybrid products and eager to keep pace with shifting consumer preferences. In fact, one of the investors in Mission Barns’ recent funding round is an unnamed European meat company. Like cultured protein in general, however, cultured fat is still a fairly new arena with a lack of regulatory guidance and most companies still in the R&D phase. It may be some time yet before plant-based products that feature cultured fat are able to commercialize.

Mission Barns has some competition in the cultured fat space. Spanish startup Cubiq Foods raised $5.5 million in 2020 to help speed up the commercialization of its products. It claims to be the first startup to make cell-based fats that are high in omega-3s, which could appeal to consumers’ growing interest in functional foods and wellness. 

Based in Belgium, Peace of Meat claims to have created a proprietary stem-cell-based technology that can create animal fats using bioreactors at an industrial scale. In 2020, Israeli startup Meat-Tech 3D announced the acquisition of a cultured animal fat company and plans to develop cell-based chicken.

Elsewhere in the cultured foods space, startups are trying to replicate muscle cuts of meat, which has proven more challenging compared to ground versions, with the help of cultivated fat. Aleph Farms recently announced that it produced the world’s first slaughter-free ribeye steak using cell cultivation and 3D bioprinting. Known for its high levels of marbling, the ribeye is a fattier cut of meat, making the task of replicating one in a lab no small feat. Aleph Farms’ thick ribeye steak featured what appeared to be ribbons of fat.