Hampton Creek plans to beat competitors to supermarket shelves by two years.
hampton creek makes lab-made meat
Credit: Courtesy of Hampton Creek

Hampton Creek has an idea about food: the company thinks "eating well is a basic right," and part of that, it argues, is eating "clean meat." And perhaps more importantly, the company proudly says, we could be eating it by next year.

In a new LinkedIn post, Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick unveiled that the company has been secretly working on technology that could grow what it calls "clean meat," aka lab-grown meat, as soon as 2018, years ahead of competitors in the field. In fact, Memphis Meats has said its lab-grown chicken nuggets won't hit grocery stores until 2021, while Cultured Beef claims its engineered beef patties will be ready in 2020.

"By the end of 2018, we'll be out there selling a clean meat product.," Tetrick told Food & Wine this week. That product will be in the "avian" family, he says, and will eventually explore a line of beef, pork, and seafood.

Tetrick wouldn't reveal exactly what the chicken-like product will be, but he said he expects customers to be impressed with the taste. In fact, he's got a team of Michelin star-rated chefs working alongside scientists and food safety experts to make sure that's the case. "To get it right, it's everything from mouthfeel to texture to shelf stability—things we're not necessarily thinking about when we're eating—a full sensory experience," he says. "It's really important for us to get everything right."

It has taken Hampton's team one year of work on its avian-like product—and three years of plant-based research—to tweak its method. As Tetrick explained in his post, "meat and seafood are primarily a combination of muscle and fat cells. They require nutrients to grow, whether inside an animal or in a clean facility. And the main limiting factor in scaling clean meat has been providing cells with a sustainable and economical source of nutrients required for cell growth. With plants providing nutrients for animal cells to grow, we believe we can produce meat and seafood that is over 10 [times] more efficient than the world’s highest volume slaughterhouse."

Lab-grown meat may be more efficient—and it's likely more eco-friendly, as it reduces greenhouse gas emissions—but it could be a few more years before its affordable for the general public. Even Tetrick quickly admits it, saying when this product hits shelves, it will be about 30 percent more costly than comparable meats.

"Look, I was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, on chicken wings. I don't think there are enough conscious, well-off consumers out there willing to pay a large price for this. The only way it works if we get the price comparable or more affordable,” he says.

When Cultured Beef unveiled its lab-grown beef patty, it cost $325,000 to produce. Two years later, in 2015, the company dropped its estimated price to about $11 per burger—but that's still much more than your typical meat patty. And those prices could really put a crimp in your backyard BBQ plans. But Tetrick's not too worried.

"Imagine choosing between a similarly priced pound of clean high-grade Bluefin tuna belly or conventional tilapia from underwater traps, or clean A5 Kobe beef versus conventional sirloin—corn-fed and confined," Tetrick said on LinkedIn. "Our approach will be transparent and unquestionably safe, free of antibiotics and have a much lower risk of foodborne illness. The right choice will be obvious."

What remains to be seen is whether consumers will, indeed, make that choice.