EU cultivated meat player seeks market approval in ‘logical choice’ Singapore

Products made by French cultivated chicken start-up Vital Meat could fly the coop by achieving pre-marketing authorisation in Singapore.

The company recently submitted for novel food regulatory approval with the SFA, which it believes places Vital Meat as the ‘front runner’ to be the first European cultivated meat company approved in Singapore.

A cultivated chicken ingredient for hybrid products

Vital Meat was founded in late 2018 by Frederick Grimaud and Etienne Duthoit. Considering itself France’s first cultivated meat start-up, the company makes cultivated chicken ingredients from avian cells.

To produce the ingredient, coined ‘Vital Chicken’, the Vital Meat team extract cells from a fertilised chicken. From there, the cells are fed with growth media in a bioreactor where they multiply. The biomass is then harvested to make the final product.

“We don’t even need to go back to the egg at all. We just keep the robust cell line alive, like bakers do with their yeast,” Duthoit told FoodNavigator when we visited the company in Paris​.

The cultivated chicken ingredient imparts an ‘authentic taste’ that captures the ‘true essence of poultry’, according to the start-up. Image source: Vital Meat

Vital Chicken is a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids. It is also a source of vitamin B12 and iron. Being a B2B ingredient, the goal is for food manufacturers to mix Vital Chicken in with a plant-based matrix to impart an ‘authentic taste’ that captures the ‘true essence of poultry’. This is how FoodNavigator tasted it back in 2021, and concluded that indeed, it tastes like chicken​.

“Vital Meat’s cultivated chicken – the Vital Chicken – is an ingredient to be combined with plant-based ingredients to produce high quality hybrid products,” Vital Meat’s COO Olivia de Talancé told this publication. “For example, famous chefs like [Michelin starred] Jean Marie Baudic use Vital Chicken to make chicken puffs, while young, promising Singaporean chef Neo JunHao had added Vital Chicken to local recipes.

“By concentrating on Vital Chicken’s unique qualities, we aim to provide a valuable and distinctive option for chefs and food companies seeking innovative and sustainable culinary solutions.”

Why submit to the SFA first? Singapore has a ‘rigorous and welcoming’ environment

Building a regulatory dossier for novel food submission is a major undertaking. According to Vital Meat’s de Talancé, the task involved the ‘whole company’. “You have to prove that everything in your technology is safe, from the cell line to the media, to the process and the end product.”

Key elements of the dossier included demonstrating cell line safety and stability with third-party testing, ensuring scalability over several months; adherence to quality standards in the production process to guarantee the highest levels of safety and quality control; and ensure the nutrient solution is free from animal-derived compounds and antibiotics. The company also had to demonstrate consistent production capabilities that ‘lay the foundation’ for industrial-scale production.

The decision to first submit a novel food dossier to Singapore’s regulatory authorities was a logical one, suggested the company.

“Being highly dependent on imports to feed its population, Singapore is actively working towards food sovereignty. The country is looking for solutions to increase its food self-sufficiency, and cultivated meat is one of them,” said de Talancé.

“Additionally, Singapore stands out for its forward-thinking mind and its openness to innovation.”

How long does it take for the SCA to ascertain whether a new food product and production process is safe for human consumption?

FoodNavigator understands the entire process takes anywhere between nine to 12 months. But even before the application is submitted, cultivated meat companies can consult with the SFA.

The system, which facilitates open dialogue between regulators and companies, has been described as ‘probably the most effective and efficient​’ in the world.

To date, regulatory approval for cultivated meat has been granted to just two companies (Eat Just-owned GOOD Meat​ and UPSIDE Foods​) and two jurisdictions (Singapore and the US). Singapore’s food agency was the first authority to grant approval back in late 2020.

Chef Neo Jun Hao

Singaporean chef Neo Jun Hao has been adding the Vital Chicken ingredient to local recipes. Image source: Vital Meat

“The SFA is internationally recognised for their ability to diligently assess cultivated meat dossiers. With both this rigorous and welcoming environment, Singapore was the logical choice for Vital Meat.

“Of course we have many other geographies in mind. But we are now focusing on our launch plan in Singapore. It is important for us to do things right, one step at a time.”

As to whether Vital Meat is the only European cultivated meat company to submit a novel food dossier in Singapore, however, is not certain. “The SFA does not communicate on the dossiers they have received from other companies,” explained Vital Meat’s COO. “We think at least one other European company has filed a cultivated meat dossier, [but] not for chicken…”

Strengthening production with Biowest partnership

Vital Meat’s announcement comes on the back of a newly formed partnership with French cell culture media supplier Biowest. Cell culture media is known for its high price tag, often considered one of the major prohibitors in producing affordable cultivated meat.

But according to Biowest, its customised, serum-free media is cost effective.

After a series of trials, Vital Meat has managed to scale production. Today, the company is producing ‘kilos’ of its Vital Chicken ingredient, and believes its partnership with Biowest has played a ‘crucial’ role in achieving this milestone.

“I am delighted by this partnership with Biowest, which ensures exceptional quality and traceability of our media and guarantees the commercial scalability of our cultivated chicken,” said Vital Meat’s Duthoit.