• More than two dozen firms are testing lab-grown fish, beef and chicken.
  • The alternative meat market could be worth $140 billion by 2029.

Shiok Meats, a Singapore-based start-up whose name means very good in local slang, aims to become the first company in the world to bring shrimp grown in a laboratory to diners’ plates.

Demand for meat substitutes is booming, as consumer concerns about health, animal welfare and the environment grow. Plant-based meat alternatives, popularized by Beyond Meat Inc and Impossible Foods, increasingly feature on supermarket shelves and restaurant menus.

But so-called clean meat, which is genuine meat grown from cells outside the animal, is still at a nascent stage.

The frozen lab grown shrimp.
Image: REUTERS/TravisTeo

More than two dozen firms are testing lab-grown fish, beef and chicken, hoping to break into an unproven segment of the alternative meat market, which Barclays estimates could be worth $140 billion by 2029.

Shiok grows minced meat by extracting a sample of cells from shrimp. The cells are fed with nutrients in a solution and kept at a temperature of 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), which helps them multiply.

Flasks from the lab.
Image: REUTERS/TravisTeo

The stem cells become meat in four to six weeks.

One kg (2.2 lb) of lab-grown shrimp meat now costs $5,000, says Chief Executive Sandhya Sriram. That means a single ‘siu mai’ (pork and shrimp) dumpling typically eaten in a dim sum meal would cost as much as $300, using Shiok’s shrimp.

Bioreactor where the last stage of shrimp meat grown from stem cells in the lab is taking place is seen at Shiok Meats in Singapore January 22, 2020. Picture taken January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Travis Teo - RC2ZOE94BMGM
Bioreactor where the last stage of shrimp meat grown.
Image: REUTERS/Travis Teo - RC2ZOE94BMGM

Sriram, a vegetarian, hopes to cut the cost to $50 per kg by the end of this year by signing a new low-cost deal for nutrients to grow the meat cells and expects it will fall further as the company achieves scale.

Sandya Sriram, co-founder and chief executive officer at Shiok Meats, sits next to bioreactor where the last stage of lab-grown or cell-grown shrimp meat is taking place, in Singapore January 22, 2020. Picture taken January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Travis Teo - RC2ZOE9I38K6
Sandya Sriram, co-founder and chief executive officer at Shiok Meats.
Image: REUTERS/Travis Teo - RC2ZOE9I38K6

Shiok is backed by Henry Soesanto, chief executive of Philippines’ Monde Nissin Corp, which owns British meat substitute firm Quorn. It wants to raise $5 million to fund a pilot plant in Singapore to sell to restaurants and food suppliers.

A close up of the bioreactor.
Image: REUTERS/TravisTeo

“We are looking at next year, so we might be the first ever company to launch a cell-based meat product in the world,” Sriram said. Shiok still needs approval from the city-state’s food regulator.

Ka Yi Lang co-founder and chief scientific officer at Shiok Meats.
Image: REUTERS/TravisTeo

Cell-based meat companies also face the challenge of consumer perception of their product.

The cooked dumpling full of lab meat.
Image: REUTERS/TravisTeo

Any alternative means of making animal protein without harming the environment are positive, but more studies are needed to understand any negative consequences of producing cellular protein, said Paul Teng, a specialist in agritechnology innovations at Nanyang Technological University.

Ka Yi Lang co-founder and chief scientific officer at Shiok Meats injecting liquid into a petri dish.
Image: REUTERS/TravisTeo

In Singapore, some consumers said they would give lab-grown meat a shot.

“I am willing to try,” said 60-year-old Pet Loh, while she shopped for shrimp in a Singapore market. “I may not exactly dare to eat it frequently, but I don’t mind buying and trying it because the animals in the oceans are declining.”