Meat is not a functional product, it is an emotional product

Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms sat down for a conversation with Lisa M. Keefe, Editor in chief of Meatingplace, premier meat joint made for all to get together.

In a fractious time in society, Didier Toubia preaches a message of unity and teamwork across industry lines and points of view.

That is, Didier Toubia has no interest in painting cultivated meat — his company’s raison d’etre — as a better choice than conventional meat harvested from a slaughtered animal, as most plant-based meat substitutes routinely do in their marketing messages. Rather, his company, Aleph Farms, is and wants to remain closely aligned with the likes of Cargill, working together to address the nutritional demands of a growing population and while being gentler on the planet and miserly in its use of natural resources.

Toubia outlined his ideas in an interview with The Analogue Dish from his company’s headquarters in Rehovot, Israel.

This interview has been edited for brevity.

The Analogue Dish: Tell me a little bit more about Aleph’s founding and what brought you and the rest of the team to this place?

DIDIER TOUBIA: I’m a food engineer and a biologist by education. I like good food and I feel very emotional about cooking, about eating. Making sure that we enjoy good food is one of the drivers behind Aleph Farms, but within that food space the main motivator for Aleph Farms and for the team is sustainability. I think that in order to be able to maintain the world as it is, we need to make sure that we balance all economic activity with more sustainable practices. I believe that the food industry we do have, as a whole, really overuses natural resources.

There is no one magical wand obviously, and cultivated meat is not a magical wand. But I believe [in] integrating new technologies into the existing system in order to build a holistic approach to produce the same amount of meat or more meat. Our goal is to walk hand-in-hand with the meat industry to find ways to combine, integrate new methodologies for the industry to thrive.

We don’t believe that we will replace animal farming. We’re actually keen on working together with the meat industry. Our goal is to provide the solutions that are relevant, that can be actionable for the meat industry, and that can help the players in this space address their own challenges. We want to make sure that the meat industry can continue to serve delicious products to the consumers at a reasonable price.

The AD: Has the spread of this pandemic changed that overall holistic vision and your plans for integration? Does it change the timeline? Your approach? Your technologies?

TOUBIA: Overall, I believe that the current crisis is highlighting the need for more flexibility in the supply chain. I believe all that is in favor of cultivated meat. Following this crisis, there will be more focus on local production and decentralized production of food. With that respect again, cultivated meat can be produced anytime, anywhere. We showed that when we made meat in the International Space Station last year.

Cultivated meat can easily integrate a new globalization [that] builds on local production. I believe that the new globalization will need to integrate local cultures, local communities, and build an approach [that] integrates differences in the communities. We do see Aleph Farms integrating smoothly the vision for local production, which is part of the global vision.

The AD: Companies in the cultivated meat space seem to be aiming to create a beef product first. Is that an easier product to grow?

TOUBIA: Beef is more complex to grow than poultry, for instance, or even fish. We focus on beef for two reasons: The first one is that Aleph Farms is looking at quality products. [The second is that] we believe that we can have a bigger impact by producing beef through cultivation methods than other species because beef is the most resource-intensive meat production method. We believe we can have a bigger impact on the carbon footprint.

Beef is definitely regarded as the highest quality and most premium meat. We believe that meat is not just proteins. Meat is an experience. When a consumer is eating a beef steak, he’s not just filling his body with proteins, he’s looking for certain experience which is loaded with emotions, with culture and cultural references.

[That’s why] I believe cultivated meat will not replace conventional meat. Meat is an experience, and there are an infinite amount of meat experiences, different types of breeds, cuts, cooking materials which produce different experiences, different emotions. Meat is not a functional product, it’s an emotional product.

We believe cultivated meat will drive a new subset of experiences within the meat space. We will not exactly reproduce one single identified experience of meat. We will be a new category of meat products with its own set of attributes and its own universe in terms of a set of experiences.

At Aleph Farms, we do see ourselves a crafters of emotions. We craft emotions. We’re not producing pudding.

The AD: Speaking more technically, what distinguishes Aleph’s approach from, say, Memphis Meat’s approach in terms of the process of cultivating the meat tissue?

TOUBIA: The main difference is that we focus on structured products like whole muscle meat. We don’t make ground meat or processed food. Other companies are looking at whole muscle meat as some type of Holy Grail. I would say that we skipped the step of the hamburger or meatball. Our first product will be a thin-cut beef steak.

Beyond that, we also have a different production process for large scale. One of the big challenges of cultivated meat is the ability to cultivate large quantities efficiently at a cost which is in line with the meat industry’s costs stand . Here, we have a different process than other companies in the space. Overall, we have developed six different technologies which are unique to Aleph Farms. They are integrated put into a propriety large-scale production process that is patented by the company.

The AD: You’ve said that you’re interested in making sure that the facts are out there for consumers to make up their own minds. But ultimately you’ve got to have a product and you’ve got to have a price on it and you have to market it.

TOUBIA: But again, the demand for meat is growing and there is room in the market for everyone. Demand for meat is set to grow 50% by 2040 globally, so, the pie’s expanding. We’re not here to take business from someone else. We’re here to build the most collaborative process, to increase the value for everyone.

It’s clear that when we launch to market and commercialize our product, consumers will make the decision on whether they would like to purchase cultured meat or not. If they decide it’s not good for them, I have absolutely no issue with that.

We’re eating enough meat today, meaning our goal is to make sure that the whole ecosystem incorporates a set of solutions which make it sustainable in the long term.

We will be transferring our product to pilot production next year (2021) and start building our first BioFarm, which will be operational towards the end of 2022. Our commercial pilot launch will be at that time — end of 2022, beginning of 2023.

We might not be the first to go to market. Our focus is to develop the right product. I believe that in any new industry, or any new category in this case, what’s important is that we get it right. And this is why we’re working also with the meat industry, because no one knows meat better than the meat people. People who are really into meat and are connected to meat and are dreaming meat at night.

I think that it’s only by collaborating with the meat industry we can make sure that the products we develop will meet consumer expectations and will be right.