Podcast #51 George Zheleznyi, founder of Cultimate Foods, speaks with Andrew Ive from Big Idea Ventures about a tastier sustainable food options.
Culminate Foods is creating better alternatives to traditional meat. Culminate is growing real fat cells in a cruelty free enviroment to enhance the taste and flavor of plant-based alternatives to rival that of traditional meats.
Big Idea Ventures has launched our very own podcast The Big Idea Podcast: Food. Each week Big Idea Ventures Founder Andrew D. Ive will speak with some of the most innovative minds in the food space and talk about the exciting projects they are a part of.
To listen to the episode click the links below!
To learn more about Cultimate Foods, check out the link below!
Andrew D Ive 00:01
Welcome to the Big Idea podcast where we’re focused on food. Today we’re going to be talking to George from Cultivate Foods. They’re working on using cell based technology to create animal fat, and that animal fat would ultimately be used in multiple products as a way of improving taste. So let’s get into the conversation and by all means, like and subscribe so you can hear about new podcasts and new posts as and when they come out. Thanks very much. Okay, George from Ultimate foods. How are you sir?
I’m great. Thank you, Andrew, for having me here.
Andrew D Ive 00:48
You’re very welcome. Thanks for joining the Big Idea podcast where we’re focused on food. Today, I hope we’re going to get into everything about Cultivate Foods, and you and your team, you know, how you got started, why you got started, and what makes Cultivate Foods unique, special, and amazing. So why don’t we start there? Tell me briefly about Cultivate Foods.
Cultivate Foods is a Berlin based agriculture company, which is developing amazing high quality fat ingredients. We grow animal fat cells for food application. So our product can be used in plant based meat industry, in cell based meat industry, to be added in the formulas of the products like imagine plant based pate, like Beyond Meat pate, with real fat inside. This is what we create.
Andrew D Ive 01:59
Okay, so let me let me unpack that, because that’s a lot of information. Cultivate Foods is using cell based technology to create fat, Yes? And the reason why is because you want to add fat into plant based products to make them better tasting and juicy?
Yes, exactly. And, of course, the first stage is to go into plant based meat and create hybrid products by mixing plant protein with our fat ingredient that we have. Our ingredient will be applicable also in cell based meat in future.
Andrew D Ive 02:47
Got it? So let’s, let’s dive into that just a little bit. You’re saying that your cell based fat is going to be focused on plant based patties and meat products in particular? How big is that market? Is it an enormous market? Is it growing? What’s happening to the marketplace around plant based meats at this point?
Probably most of your listeners know a lot about the plant based meat market. And I do not want to speculate on this because we were all promised the plant based meat sector would grow by 50% a year, and what we see now, yes, it’s growing. Yes, the adoption is increasing, that people need something better, something better tasting, because they are not convinced with the alternatives to meat that are on shelves now. We are actually the company that is helping these markets to unlock this great potential.
Andrew D Ive 04:01
Okay, so enormous market potential hasn’t yet realized it’s full potential growth every year, mainly because the products that have been produced haven’t delivered, haven’t given the full sort of experience that people are expecting from a meat product. When they go and buy a plant based product, they want that experience to be there also. So you guys are helping to solve that equation. You’re helping to make plant based products better and more like the traditional animal protein. Take us through that. Is it yet a fully viable technology or is it something that has a certain lead time in terms of development and scalability? What does that sort of journey look like at this moment?
I believe that cell based fat would be the first cell based ingredient on the market because it’s the most value added part of meat. I mean, fat and that’s why a small proportion of such an ingredient can make a huge difference for the end product. But if we speak about fully cultivated steak here, 100%, sell cultivated pate, I think it sure needs time to come. Because the market was also a bit over promised by companies promising to deliver this steak 3d printed or cultivated in three years time, but it hasn’t yet.
It’s not yet on the market and we believe in a pretty pragmatic approach that we should go and work with the already available technologies and by creating fat, we accelerate this transition from animal products to animal free products. The most crucial part here is to convince meat eaters, and if people who are going for plant based meat for ethics, or for health, they just buy the valuable plant based options. But meat eaters which are like the majority of the market, they need to be convinced and fat is going to be this ingredient. Cell based fat will reach this audience, but as I said, unfortunately, 100% cell cultivated steak is maybe a matter of decade away yet.
Andrew D Ive 07:10
I don’t know that I agree with that. Honestly, I don’t think I agree that it’s 10 years away for cell based meat. We’ve got various companies working on it and different aspects of it. I don’t think it’s that long. I would suggest it’s much faster than that. Let’s get back to bringing cell based fat to plant based products, from Cultivated Food’s perspective. When do you think, or when are you guys targeting having an ingredient that can be scaled to the point where you can add it into a plant based product, resulting in a better product?Is it a two year cycle? Is it a one year cycle? What’s the target at this point in time?
Our target is 2025 for a soft launch of our ingredient, to bring it to the market to give to people to. We already produce samples now which we deliver to our partners from the food industry. We do experiments with product formulations. For example, we ran a pilot with a German ingredient company, which is focusing on creation of plant based meat formulas, and we have an agreement with them that we will do together these experiments by bringing our fat and they will incorporate it in their formulas that they create for companies and sell them b2b. So we already do this and we will see our fat in products this year. So that’s gonna be like experiments and maybe tastings. In terms of market launch, we believe 2025 is a realistic timeline.
Andrew D Ive 09:27
2025 So let’s let’s talk about your key target audience, your channels of distribution. It’s going to be an ingredient of fat that gets added to existing formulations. Are you thinking that you’re gonna sell it to individual patty manufacturers, like Beyond Impossible, etc. Or is it more as an ingredient where you’re selling it as an ingredient to ingredient providers, who then will sell it throughout the industry. What do you see as your core customer set and your core distribution channels?
Now we already have a pilot with a customer and it’s one of the food corporations, very well known, and we deliver them our samples of fat so they can assess the quality of the product. The thing is that they have, in their product portfolio, plant based meat line. We see ourselves as a partner of thiers, the supplier of the fat ingredient. We can also do our business by licensing and CO creating maybe a revenue sharing model, together with them.
What we definitely don’t want to do, is to start building a multi million dollar facility, to deliver and to start to produce it on a huge scale. We think that in current conditions, it’s better to utilize the equipment and the facilities that already exist, and to go into partnership with companies, because we have our strong robust technology, and we create fantastic fat cells, from which we can produce high quality fat. This is our core competence, but we’re not engineers or producers or food manufacturers. So for us, the faster way to market would be to get together with such a partner, which has everything already in house and to launch a product together.
Andrew D Ive 12:20
Perfect. So you’re right, we’ve seen companies in our space, who are looking at how do they bring their ingredient, their technology to market, some of them have chosen the journey of creating their own manufacturing facility, which A requires a significant amount of capital and B it requires them to completely change their business model from being the innovator to being the producer, and that requires a multi significant team, it requires shift work, where people are manufacturing that product in eight hour blocks throughout the week, it changes the model completely.
I’ve been there. I’ve had a plant based meat company. We had a facility which I had to go to for, like, three years, almost every week and to see what’s happening in their world. The number of problems you actually tackle all the time as a producer, is huge. What I want to do is to create products, create solutions, and bring it to market in the most efficient way. So yeah, that’s why we are not going to be a huge food producer, but rather developers of innovative products.
Andrew D Ive 14:01
So do you see yourself and Cultimates role to get the technology to the point where it’s scalable, and then find a partner who will either license the technology or work with you on scaling up the technology? So you’ll bring the technology they’ll bring the capability around, scale up? And you’ll then partner to bring that ingredient either to that company or as a product jointly into other customers? Is that is that the model of either licensing or coding?
This is the vision, to scale up the technology to a particular level, and not to go further because it’s not our area of expertise and we do not have to focus on that. Right now already, at an early stage to prepare for future scale up, we are talking to such potential partners. One of them is in Germany, its an equipment producer, which is producing fermenters for breweries. Another company is in Switzerland, which is also going to be like the tech facility with bio reactors, where we could scale up with our products. The most important thing, is that they already have engineers, they already have all the knowledge to create scalable bioprocesses. Now, what we need to bring, we need to bring a piece of technology that can be adapted to bigger volumes.
Andrew D Ive 15:59
So let’s talk a little bit about what you guys and your team are specifically doing, and some of the challenges you’re solving and starting to tackle with cell based fat. How challenging is it to create and scale from your point of view, cell based fat? What are some of the problems or some of the challenges that you guys are focused on solving.
So the cultivated meat industry is challenging indeed. I believe that the recipe is not to try to do everything in house, but rather, use the solutions that already exist, if they work well, and they are pretty efficient. But it’s very important to pick your battle in the company and decide on what is your strong technical focus. We decided internally that we are going to be the guys who can create high quality fat with rich lipid profile from almost any sales that we can get. Yeah. So for example, we go and we isolate a piece of tissue, and then we isolate stem cells from it. Our area of expertise is to take these stem cells and create the best set that exists in nature. If we speak about types of fat, there is a fat, for example, which is under skin there is fat which is called intermuscular, and there’s fat, which is called intramuscular, and the latter is actually the best fat that you can ever get. This is the fat that you can find in the vagus take here, this this one in between layers of muscles, and it’s marbling. It has much more monounsaturated fatty acids.
This is our benchmark to take stem cells and to make this intramuscular, rich in lipids fat and to bring it to the alternative meat industry and create delicious plant based hybrid hemp meat of it.
Andrew D Ive 18:48
So that’s that sounds great. You mentioned not wanting to sort of reinvent the wheel, not taking all aspects of what can be done around cell based fat and trying to do it yourself, but sort of finding best in class technologies and what’s already working. Simply, if it’s possible, what’s unique about Cultimate? Because if you’re saying there’s lots of different paths to this puzzle, and people are already doing well, in certain areas. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. What are you guys bringing to the table?
Yeah. So we are focusing on the process of differentiation of cells from stem cells into fat cells and this is where actually the quality appears. What is more important we have chosen the right benchmark. So to create the correct grade fat, you need to understand what should be the lipid profile of this future fat. We did our research, we examined and we found the target benchmark product that we’re going to create. And then we work in our laboratory to push these stem cells to become this particular fat, which has particular lipid profile, and of course, flavor, flavor intensity, and this is what our main focus is, quality rather than quantity.
Andrew D Ive 20:48
So I’m gonna play devil’s advocate for a moment when it comes to plant based meat. Why is it necessary to create an animal based, or rather cell based, fat solution to add versus adding a plant based oil or some other sort of plant based iteration, to add that sort of fat or that oil aspect? Why is a cell based, slash animal based, solution needed?
So the main goal is to convince the meat eaters, and it’s very, very difficult, because people try plant based meat. If they do not have an ethical point of view on the industry, or a health problem, then they would probably not buy plant based meat again. This is proven by surveys and recent research. So for us, it’s very important to bring the product, which is 100%, identical to what people are already used to. That’s why the only way is to create the same product, but without animals. Cell based technology allows us to do this, unlike others and this is the main problem that we solve here, like taste and texture of the alternative meat products that are currently on shelves.
There are other aspects, which lie in the area of production of this plant based meat. As I mentioned, I’ve had experience in producing plant based meat products in my first startup, and plant based oil actually brings a lot of problems to producers, because it’s not the right component for, let’s say, a meatball or a patty, even while it’s transported after production, for example, it leaks out of the product, you need to think about stabilizers, you need to think about prices as well, because high quality coconut oil is actually pretty pricey now. Then you need to hide the aftertaste of this oil with flavoring, which is much more expensive than oil. This is a devils circle where you need to hide this taste, and you use more flavor and increases it your costs. So there are many problems also on the side of producer and the consumers. They also want the real experience.
Andrew D Ive 24:18
Wow. Lots of parts that you’re exactly right, George. I get sent lots of different plant based products to test and often they’ll arrive and, you know, you put them in the frying pan and they just leak out oil around, you know just sort of leaks out around the product and it looks really unappetizing. Nothing like the real product, and I don’t want to say real thing, but nothing like the traditional animal protein. On top of that, as you say they’re often using coconut oil or other oils. There’s often a sustainability piece to that as well because as we increase our consumption of coconut oil and other oils were having to cut down indigenous forests and so on in different parts of the world. So there’s a big sustainability challenge, even moving in that plant based direction.
Andrew D Ive 25:13
But I think it comes down to taste, it comes down to, you know, we spent multi generations determining what we like to eat as a species. And people, if they’ve got certain, either, as you say, health or sustainability or ethical demands may move away from traditional meat, but what we’re really trying to get to is the 96% to 98% of the population who today eat traditional meat will continue to eat traditional meat unless they’re given something which is identical in terms of taste, and bite and chew and texture and juiciness to the original product that they’ve grown up with in their families.
Yeah, you’re absolutely right. My co founder has been working for years in an animal welfare promoting organization, which is called Pro Veg. She’s vegan herself and she told me when we starting to cultivate, that she is a bit tired of trying to convince people to eat something which is odd for them. Something which they don’t really want. The only way to change that is to bring them the same thing, but produced in different way. I 100% agree. People want the same experience.
Andrew D Ive 26:44
So you mentioned a couple of times that you started another company, plant based, before Cultimate. Let’s talk about how Cultimate got started, you know, who sort of had the idea, who thought that there was a gap or a need? That wasn’t interested in terms of bringing better quality fats to plant based products? And how did you all get started as a company?
Yeah, it all started in the late 2021. By that time I had already exited my first startup, and I was thinking about what I was gonna do next. Then I approached my current co founder, Eugenia, and just proposed her to think together about wide gaps in the market, because she has a lot of expertise, expertise in alternative protein, as well as myself, and we had just been sitting some evenings and weekends, talking about the industry. Also meeting other people, investors and producers. What we learned was that there is a big problem, which we already mentioned, which is taste.
And it was, like, proven by everyone we talked with, and then we started to think, what what can we do to solve this problem of taste? And we we learned that fat is the most important part. We then thought, how we can create the same thing as animal fat and of course, the only way is to go with cultivated technology. I also attracted some people from the industry and we discussed how we could create it, was it feasible, was it possible? And now, two people who previously used to work in other cultivated meat company, we had talks with them at that time and now they are working with us as cell biologists, and we’re super happy to have them, and this is how it started.
Then it was a pretty fast movement in the beginning of last year 2022. We announced the company because we already had a team, and on the 21st of February, we registered our legal entity in Berlin. On the 24th we all woke up in a completely different world. Imagine me having a Russian background and my co founder actually having Ukrainian roots. We were like, just devastated. And it was a pretty difficult time in the very beginning. but we figured it out. Everything we could manage to keep the team to raise the first money to go through to the acceleration program, prevention incubator, and Big Idea Ventures and yeah, here we are now, like six, six people in the company, and having already a lot in terms of traction.
Andrew D Ive 31:07
So a person with a Russian background comes together with a person with a Ukrainian background based in Germany to build a team and make the world a better place with cultivated fat. And that’s kind of a headline, right? Question for you. If Cultimate achieves everything it can, everything you want it to, everything Eugenia wants it to, where do you see the company in 10 years time, everything works out to plan or everything works beyond plan? What are you guys going to be doing in 10 years time?
It’s a very serious question because I feel myself as a serial entrepreneur and when I was starting my first company, I never thought that it was my first and last company. For me, it’s very important that what I create, is, then have some future after that. For example, with my first company, I know that they increase the product portfolio, they have new people come in, they have new machinery, and it’s developing, I’m very happy. I feel like I have a child. A baby which has grown up and now with Cultimate, I believe that it will be also a success story, and for me, as I mentioned, it’s important that it’s developing and it’s making an impact. I can imagine different scenarios. I can imagine that in 10 years, we will still be developing new products in Cultimate and bringing them to market together with food industry partners. Our technology will be incorporated in the value chain of our other bigger company, and it will work there and will make its impact.
Andrew D Ive 33:29
Fantastic, George, I’ve only got one or two more questions at most. So thank you for your time today. What can people do if they’re listening to this, to support you and Cultimate in your journey? What sort of help are you looking for from listeners today?
So right now, we have already formed our fantastic team, but in the second half of this year, we are aiming to close the next finance, fundraising round, and we will definitely be expanding. So I encourage everyone who’s mission driven, who feels that he or she wants to work for a better world and wants to create super tasty alternative meat products, to reach out to me. You can find me on LinkedIn easily and to just to say hi, I think you’re doing great things and I believe I can contribute to this and to become either our partner or even an employee.
We are always open to talk to people. We are now talking to many plant based meat producers, and for us, it’s always it’s worth getting another opinion from people in the industry. So I’m super open to talk to people, even if you want to tell me that we don’t eat your fat, we produce vegan, super delicious fats and they are great. I would talk and learn why you think so? Because we of course, we’ve had different conversations with different companies here, and as I mentioned, we are going to start raising the next round so it’s gonna be a pretty big amount of money, so if you feel that you want to join us on this journey, please reach out to me, and we can talk about it.
Andrew D Ive 36:13
Amazing. George, give us give us your LinkedIn profile. Is it Cultimate foods? If they did a search on Cultimate Foods would they find you on LinkedIn? Or is it more you as an individual, at which point they’re going to need your spelling and so on
I believe if they type, George cultivate foods, they will find me as the first result on LinkedIn.
Andrew D Ive 36:39
so george cultimate foods. Also, obviously, you’ve got cultimatefoods.com I’m guessing they they can contact you through that website as well, right?
Andrew D Ive 36:57
Amazing. George, thank you so much for your time today. We love what you’re doing. We love you guys. The team’s incredible. We’re looking forward to kind of be being part of your journey. So thanks for your time today.
Andrew D Ive 37:12
I’m going to press pause and then we’re out. Thanks, sir. So I hope you enjoyed the conversation with George from Cultimate Foods. By all means reach out to George directly at cultimatefoods.com or via LinkedIn. He gave me the contact details. I’m Andrew D Ive. I’m the founder of Big Idea ventures and your host for this podcast. In terms of reaching out to me, you can get me via Big Idea ventures.com or via LinkedIn. Andrew, middle initial D. Last name Ive. We’re focused on finding the world’s best entrepreneurs, scientists and engineers solving the world’s greatest challenges. If you’re an entrepreneur, reach out. If you’re an investor interested in innovation, please do reach out and let’s make this world a better place for everyone. Thanks very much. Bye bye
Culminate Foods is creating better alternatives to traditional meat. Culminate is growing real fat cells in a cruelty free environment to enhance the taste and flavor of plant-based alternatives to rival that of traditional meats.
Big Idea Ventures
Big Idea Ventures is the world’s most active investor in FoodTech – our goal is to invest in the best Food and Agri-Tech companies globally. The company has contributed to the development of the growing alternative protein industry since its inception and has become a global leader in food innovation. BIV is backed by a strong network of strategic partners including AAK, Avril, Bühler, Givaudan, Temasek Holdings, and Tyson Ventures, and is partnering with governments around the world working on food security and new food ecosystems. The firm has offices in New York, Paris, and Singapore and has invested in more than 100 companies across 25 countries.
Big Idea Podcast: Food Host
Andrew founded Big Idea Ventures to help solve the world’s biggest challenges by supporting the world’s best entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers. Andrew is responsible for investing and building companies across alternative protein, food tech, and agtech sectors. Andrew works with investors, corporations, and governments to invest and build the most transformative companies and ecosystems around the world. Serving on the Tufts Nutrition Council advisory board, and a Friedman School Entrepreneurship Advisor, Andrew is a Harvard Business School graduate and Procter & Gamble brand management trained. Andrew has invested in more early-stage / pre-seed food companies than most other investors worldwide. Big Idea Ventures has teams and offices in New York, Singapore and Paris.
© Big Idea Ventures LLC 2021