What's next for lab-grown meat? Columbus' Matrix Meat says breaking down the stigma
Eric Jenkusky was sold immediately when he was pitched the CEO job at Matrix Meats.
The company launched in June 2020 in the “alternative proteins” industry—meats cultured in a lab versus grown on the hoof.
“I said to myself, ‘This is what it must have been like to be with Henry Ford sitting in a room with engineers telling them we’ll displace the horse and buggy,’” says Jenkusky, who spent decades with companies in the defense industry “This will change the way we provide protein to the masses.”
Matrix Meats was spun out from Nanofiber Solutions, which creates novel health care products under a family of companies that includes Ikostrips (purer CBD edibles) and Renovaderm (scaffolding for skin tissue regeneration.)
Get the top Central Ohio business news delivered to your inbox:Subscribe to CEO's weekly newsletter, Insider
In Matrix’s case, FDA-approved electrospun polymers provide a structure for various types of cells to grow along, forming a solid piece of meat grown in a bioreactor.
“We are replicating the extracellular matrix which exists in every living organism,” Jenkusky says.
Matrix Meats’ scaffold can support growth of beef, chicken breast, shrimp—or even mammary tissue to secrete milk.
While its technology has been used by medical researchers looking into regrowing muscle, Jenkusky says Matrix Meats will stay focused on the food industry.
Lab-grown meat has been discussed for decades—even Winston Churchill once speculated that someday, chickens would not need to die to grow a chicken breast. Jenkusky says the technological hurdles are almost conquered.
Cultural and regulatory barriers, he says, must be next to fall. The meat industry in the U.S. is fighting hard over terminology in particular, Jenkusky says, but in December, Eat Just was issued permits to sell lab-grown chicken in Singapore.
He says the first products to hit shelves here are likely to be hybrids of meat and plant protein in the form of ground patties or sausages, possibly within the next two years.
There are reasons beyond animal welfare to champion growing meat. The Good Food Institute, a cultured meat industry trade group, says lab-grown beef can reduce the beef industry’s carbon footprint by 92 percent.
“If you wanted to create a meat distribution system to feed the planet from scratch, would it look like what we have today, from grazing to the supermarket shelf? The only way to provide meat protein on the scale we will need it is to grow it,” Jenkusky says.
Matrix Meats, he says, is one of only about five companies in the world with the necessary technology to do that—and is the farthest along.
Matrix closed a round of seed funding in November 2020. Unovis Asset Management, alternative proteins sector giant, is the company’s lead investor.
Cynthia Bent Findlay is a freelance writer.
5164 Blazer Parkway, Dublin 43017
Business: Food technology company focused on alternative proteins.
Investment to date: Would not disclose
Launch date: June 2020