Three months after becoming the joint-first company to gain regulatory approval for cultivated meat in the US, California-based Upside Foods has opened a new commercial-scale manufacturing plant near Chicago. The new facility will begin producing ground cell-cultured chicken products, with an initial capacity of millions of pounds per year.
The 187,000 sq ft is based in Glenview, Illinois, and is titled Rubicon “with an appreciation for its historical significance as a point of no return”. In what is a significant step in the mainstreaming of cell-cultured meat, the factory has the potential to eventually produce 30 million pounds of cultivated meat and seafood products per year, and house cultivators with capacities of up to 100,000 litres.
Upside Foods COO Amy Chen told Green Queen that the facility – one of the world’s largest and most advanced commercial sites of its kind – will start with a broad portfolio of chicken-based formulations, including products like chicken nuggets, chicken sausages, dumplings and patties.
Second cultivated meat facility enables mass production
The company’s current cultivated chicken, which entered US foodservice via Bar Crenn in August, is manufactured at its Engineering, Production and Innovation Center (EPIC) in Emeryville, California. That plant can currently produce 50,000 pounds of finished cultured meat products annually, with the potential for future expansion to accommodate over 400,000 pounds per year.
“Not only does [EPIC] serve as the pioneering facility for the production and sale of our commercial products, but it also functions as an innovation centre for research and development that guides our scaling efforts,” said Chen.
“On the other hand, our Chicago facility marks our inaugural venture into large-scale commercial production,” she added. “Leveraging the knowledge accumulated from Upside’s EPIC facility in California, this new establishment will propel us to the next level of cultivated meat production.”
The company selected Dallas-based tech firm Jacobs as its design and manufacturing partner for the new plant, and chose the Chicago metropolitan area as its mass-manufacturing base due to the region’s legacy in meat production, a shared commitment to innovation and sustainability, strategic geographical advantages (it’s located at a major transportation crossroads), and its talented workforce.
It comes after the January acquisition of Wisconsin-based cultivated seafood producer Cultured Decadence. Upside Foods, which is worth $1B and has brought in $600M in funding, said this furthers its “commitment to the Midwest”, where it plans a total investment of over $140M. The company claimed this will create 75 new jobs – from warehousing and logistics positions to bioprocessing and food production – as well as other commercial functions.
“This new facility is a significant investment in our communities – creating new good-paying jobs while advancing our ambitious clean energy goals to create a more sustainable future,” Illinois governor JB Pritzker said in a statement. Touching upon Upside Foods’ US regulatory approval, he added: “Their pioneering leadership makes them a perfect fit for the region.”
“We’re excited that the next chapter of our journey towards building a more sustainable, humane, and abundant future will be in Illinois,” said Upside Foods founder and CEO Uma Valeti. “We are grateful for the collaboration and partnership that we have built at the state, county, and local levels in our site selection process.”
Diversifying the product range and bringing costs down
Upside Foods said that while ground chicken is its initial focus, it plans to diversify into other animal-based foods and whole-textured formats in the future. Chen declined to share specifics about the production and market costs of the cultivated chicken but confirmed it would enter the market at a premium. “Our ultimate goal is to reach price parity and eventually be more affordable than conventionally produced meat,” she added.
“That broad journey of technical scale-up, buildout of the supply chain ecosystem, and continuing to move down the cost curve is something we are laser-focused on in our next chapter. For instance, further reducing the cost of cell feed and finding efficiencies in bioprocess scale-up will play key roles in achieving our scale-up goals. We’ve already made tremendous progress on both of these fronts, and continue to invest in developing and testing new production processes to help achieve these goals.”
In 2021, Upside Foods announced a breakthrough development, producing an animal-component-free (ACF) cell feed for its cultivated chicken products. This meant it was no longer using the controversial fetal bovine serum (FBS), and doubtless helped fast-track scalable production as well as earn regulatory clearance. Chen remained coy on whether the company was planning on applying for approval in other countries – Singapore is the only other country that allows the sale of cultivated meat so far – but hinted that “our mission is global”.
She added that following its collaboration with Bar Crenn, the company planned on partnering with additional chefs and restaurants in the US, and eventually selling its products in grocery stores and markets globally: “Ultimately, we want Upside’s products to be available everywhere meat is sold, including retail and foodservice channels.”
A recent consumer poll by the Associated Press and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that half of Americans are unlikely to try cell-cultured meat, with most citing the reason as “it just sounds weird”, half saying they don’t think it would be safe.
Chen, however, remains confident about the consumer appeal of cultured meat. “We’re focused on educating consumers on what cultivated meat is and the potential benefits it can provide,” she said. “We believe they will fall in love with the familiar taste and texture of cultivated meat now that they have the chance to experience it.”cultured meat cultured decadence upside foods meat chicken seafood cultured cell-cultured funding investment