All Clear for cell-based: Indian firm pilots clean chicken mince with focus on price parity and acceptability

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

Indian cell-based food technology firm Clear Meat has focused its efforts on developing cell-based chicken mince. ©Getty Images
Indian cell-based food technology firm Clear Meat has focused its efforts on developing cell-based chicken mince. ©Getty Images

Related tags cell-based meat Chicken India

Indian cell-based food technology firm Clear Meat has focused its efforts on developing cell-based chicken mince due to the ‘multi-acceptability’ of the meat and claims to have already hit price parity with the intention of driving price even lower.

According to Clear Meat Co-Founder Dr Siddharth Manvati, Clear Meat already has the tech that can be applied for various different types of meats, but the firm has opted to start with a focus on minced chicken due to the ‘multi-acceptability’ of this product.

“By multi-acceptability, I mean that chicken is a choice that basically fits everyone’s criteria, especially in India  – the consumer could be fond of fish and still eat chicken, or fond of other meats and also still eat chicken, [so it is more widely accepted than fish or mutton or other meats],”​ he told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“That said, another of the main reasons chicken is so popular is also because it is a relatively cheaper meat and we are conscious of this. The market price of a whole chicken in India is around INR250 (US$3.37) per kg and processed chicken is about INR1000 (US$13.46) per kg.

“Since we’re working on chicken mince, we’ve targeted the latter and have actually reached this at around INR800 to INR850 (US$10.77 to US$11.44) per kg – though we still want to bring it down more.

“Many consumers in India are open to trying new products, and research has shown that actually only 27% of the population are really hardcore vegetarian so there really is a very enormous market here.”

This enormous market is also apparently quite open to cell-based meats as an option – unlike in China which is not expected to open up to this quite so soon​ despite being a big meat-consuming nation, Dr Manvati said that India is more willing to give it a shot.

“A study on over 300 urban consumers showed that some 67% of non-vegetarian consumers have said that they are inclined to try lab-grown animal meat,”​ he said.

“One of the main pain points here is more of when people link lab-grown to GMO, as India is very much a non-GMO country, so it really comes down to how to define these products as non-GMO to project it properly and get people to understand the concept.

“That’s one of the main reasons we’re just focusing on one product and also just in India for now, as we want to use the chicken mince to pilot and understand whatever impact and backlash comes out of it.

“From what we see, the only way to find the right way to approach this is to sell the product first, and we’re taking this one product at a time.”

Plant-based vs cell-based challenges in India

Dr Manvati added that the reception to cell-based products is likely to be very different to that of plant-based, and face very different challenges as well.

“The plant-based products have already been facing backlash globally when it comes to nomenclature before the debate came to India, and this is because these products/ingredients have been around for a while and the regulators are concerned about consumers misinterpreting these,”​ he said.

“This is different for cell-based animal products – for these the concern revolves around GMO or not, antibiotic-free or not, shelf-life and impacts as it is a completely new sort of sector.

“So we’re basically starting this from scratch, and really have to get the products out there to see the reception and backlash first. We’ve been in touch with the regulators about this, and I am confident they are working on something to get products out there and get feedback, so as to get the policies right.”

Scaling up

Clear Meat is now working towards sourcing more funding to scale up and industrialise its setup, something which was somewhat delayed due to the onset of COVID-19.

“When we started out in 2019, the plan was to industrialise within 18 months, but then we had to slow down the pace of growth when the lab had to be closed due to COVID-19 a while back,”​ said Dr Manvati.

“Now we’re confident we’re at the stage where we can think of creating an industrial setup and move from lab and investigating the applications to look at funding, then progress to a licensing and commercialisation stage.”

Although the main product focus for now is still chicken mince, the firm is also looking at new product lines covering more types of chicken products as well as other cell types.

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