"It’s like putting a man on the Moon."
While investors have poured billions of dollars into burgeoning lab-grown meat companies, The Wall Street Journal reports, the industry is running into a huge reality problem: scaling up and breaking into the mainstream market.
For years, we've heard from companies promising to turn the meat industry on its head with products that are cultivated in a lab using animal cells without the need of slaughtering methane-producing livestock on an industrial scale.
But so far, nobody's managed to crack the fundamentals.
"We can make it on small scales successfully," Josh Tetrick, CEO of lab-grown meat company Eat Just, told the WSJ. "What is uncertain is whether we and other companies will be able to produce this at the largest of scales, at the lowest of costs within the next decade."
In other words, we're still many years — and one plausible business model — away from being able to pick up a lab-grown meat burger patty at the local grocery store for a reasonable price.
Analysts see a promising alternative approach that could stand a better chance: hybrid products that use animal cells as well as plant-based proteins.
Eat Just has made some concrete steps towards bringing its cultivated hybrid chicken product to the masses. It's started selling the cutlet in Singapore, which is the only country in the world to actually permit the sale of lab-grown meat.
Even with hybrid products, scaling up is proving difficult, in part due to the complexities involved in maintaining a sterile environment.
"What we’re trying to do is not easy," Uma Valeti, CEO of lab-grown meat company Upside, told the WSJ. "It’s like putting a man on the Moon. There’s no road map or blueprint."
Former Upside employees told the newspaper that the company has struggled to produce meaningful quantities of its product and is still a long way from producing a target of 400,000 pounds at its pilot plant and hasn't even reached its 2021 goal of just 50,000 pounds, according to the report.
Despite the shortcomings, others are steadfast in their belief that lab-grown meat is the answer to the world's climate woes and growing population.
But getting to the point where lab-grown meat alternatives can make a meaningful dent in the global demand for meat will require companies to clear many more hurdles.
"There’s not been anything close to a cakewalk," Valeti told the WSJ. "But we entered this knowing this is going to be really challenging."
More on lab-grown meat: Scientists Say They Can Make Delicious Lab-Grown Fat, Weave It Into Fake Bacon