Tyson backing lab-grown meat startups to ‘fail forward’

Not all developing cell-cultured meat companies will be successful, an official with Tyson Foods, which has invested in two of those companies, acknowledged.

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Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb on his first try, says Tyson Ventures Chief Financial Officer Tom Mastrobuoni, so people shouldn't expect lab-grown meat companies to experience success immediately. | Brandon Blinkenberg, Freeimages.com
Thomas Edison didn't invent the light bulb on his first try, says Tyson Ventures Chief Financial Officer Tom Mastrobuoni, so people shouldn't expect lab-grown meat companies to experience success immediately. | Brandon Blinkenberg, Freeimages.com

Not all developing cell-cultured meat companies will be successful, an official with Tyson Foods, which has invested in two of those companies, acknowledged.

Through Tyson Ventures, a Tyson venture capital subsidiary, the company has invested in two cell-cultured or lab-grown meat companies: Memphis Meats and Future Meat Technologies.

Tom Mastrobuoni, discussed Tyson Foods’ investment in those companies on September 7 at the Good Food Conference in Berkeley, California.

Mastrobuoni said part of Tyson Ventures’ aim is to “figure out what’s coming on the horizon” that could someday be disruptive to Tyson’s core businesses. By doing its research, and seeing companies involved in such disruptive business initiatives, Tyson Ventures invests in the companies it believes could make a positive difference.

At the time Tyson, which has evolved from being a chicken company to a diversified protein company, was looking at investing in cell-cultured meat companies, there were only about 12 in existence. Tyson invested in two.

Today, there are close to 30 companies devoted to cell-cultured meat production. Some may be successful, others likely won’t. And that is O.K. with Mastrobuoni, because an investment from Tyson will help give some companies added capital while they seek solutions for an industry still in its earliest stages.

“What we decided to do is invest in start-up companies and give them that safe space to fail forward,” said Mastrobuoni. “We always tell people that Edison didn’t invent the light bulb on the first try. Things are going to go wrong. That’s OK. But let’s give them a space to do that.”

Mastrobuoni believes that there will be some industry consolidation once the market takes off. Whether Memphis Meats or Future Meat Technologies will be ones that survive remains to be seen, but Mastrobuoni says Tyson’s initial investment gets the company’s foot in the door about an up-and-coming protein.

“The first frog you kiss isn’t usually the one you walk down the aisle,” he said.

USDA, FDA have regulation on agenda

Presently, federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not have any regulations in place for cell-cultured meats. But Mastrobuoni said he knows such regulations will be made.

He recently attended an FDA hearing, and received news that was encouraging to him.

“They are clearly talking about this,” he said. “They’re going to figure it out.”

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