The French delicacy foie gras, which directly translates as “fat liver,” is traditionally made out of the liver of a duck or goose which has been force-fed or over-fed. The process is cruel, and yet foie gras maintains a level of cultural importance in France and popularity throughout the world. So how can have our foie gras and stop force-feeding ducks too? Technology.
French startup GOURMEY is creating cell-based foie gras, specifically cultured at the cellular level to recreate the result of overfeeding. The startup is using today’s technology to update culinary tradition, respecting the cultural importance of foie gras while eliminating outdated and cruel processes. And while GOURMEY has started with foie gras, it’s only the first step in what the team hopes is a larger endeavor. We spoke with GOURMEY co-founder and CEO Nicolas Morin-Forest on the company’s vision, technology, and plans for the future.
Why did you co-found GOURMEY? Why make cell-based foie gras, in particular?
GOURMEY is the story of three friends, Antoine, Victor, and Nicolas, willing to have a positive impact on the world and help build a sustainable food system. Our mission is to accelerate the world’s transition to humane, sustainable and healthy meat by harvesting it from animal cells. We are first reinventing the most controversial French delicacy – foie gras but that’s only the beginning of our journey. We are building a complete production platform around duck cells and we would love our next product to be a daily product. We like the idea of a duck burger for instance!
Reinventing foie gras, the most iconic and controversial French delicacy, is our way to show that innovation and tradition can go hand in hand. As the first French cultivated meat company, we want to prove that this new production method can offer rich, savory gastronomy products. Foie gras is delicious and many people in France and beyond love it but there is also a huge and growing unmet demand for an alternative. Just last week, foie gras was banned in New York City. Production is banned in 17 countries. In France, our love story with foie gras is also turning cold: 75% of French consumers are uncomfortable with the way foie gras is produced and would love a force feeding-free alternative.
Can you tell us a bit about the processes and technology GOURMEY is using to create cell-based foie gras?
We start with a freshly laid egg from a duck from which we take a few cells. We place these cells directly into our “cultivator” where they are fed with basic nutrients, the same nutrients ducks find in their natural diet (oats, corn, or grass for instance). The cells have everything they need so they grow naturally. Then we adjust the nutrients and slightly increase the level of good, plant-based fat to obtain delicious, tasty duck foie gras that can then be cooked, seasoned and enjoyed. Once the best cells have been selected, we do not need eggs again. So one egg could be enough to meet the world’s foie gras demand for years!
In a life cycle analysis, how do the resource consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from your products compare to traditional methods? Could you share some numbers with us?
It is too early to have any solid life cycle analysis as all cultivated meat companies are still at the R&D phase and no pilot plant is up and running. However, according to preliminary estimations, producing 1 kilogram of cultivated meat could involve approximately 7 to 45% lower energy use and about 80% percent lower greenhouse gas emissions, land use and water use compared to industrial farming. Feed-to-food conversion rate for farmed animals is far from optimal and hence not sustainable, resources are massively wasted. Farmed animals require between 5 and 15 plant calories to produce one edible animal calorie. Animal cells are much better at converting plant proteins into meat, we only grow what we eat.
How much do your products cost in comparison with traditional foie gras?
One of the main challenges for any cultivated meat company is to reduce production cost. That’s at the core of our efforts and our goal is to launch our cultivated foie gras at a competitive price point, we’re aiming at price parity with conventional foie gras.
What are your target markets?
We think anyone who loves foie gras and meat in general but is not comfortable with its impact, whether it’s on the environment, on animals or because of antibiotics use, will engage with our cultivated foie gras and meat! We consider conscious meat lovers or flexitarians as our core community. Luckily for the environment, this group is growing a lot and this trend is here to stay as Gen Zs is the most environmentally aware generation.
Where can people find your products?
We have succeeded in our first technical breakthrough: replicating the effect of force-feeding directly at the cell level. So we have the first part of our recipe. Now we need to work on the taste and texture to make sure that when our foie gras hits the market, it’s as delicious if not more as the conventional version. That’s our priority, as well as making sure it’s safe to eat, obviously. We are doing our best so our foie gras hits the market within three to five years. It will first be available in limited quantities in a few select restaurants.
How did you source your funding as a startup? Which VCs or companies have invested in GOURMEY and how were you approached by them (or vice versa)?
We are being supported by public institutions in France and are proud to have won several grants and subsidies. A few French impact entrepreneurs have also joined us as they see cultivated meat as a highly promising innovation that can help solve big problems. We are also happy to be part of Big Idea Ventures program, a mission-driven fund who selected a few alternative proteins companies aiming at building a more sustainable food system. It is truly energizing to see so much support and enthusiasm for sustainable proteins!
Does GOURMEY have plans to create cell-based versions of any other animal-based delicacies?
Reinventing foie gras is only the beginning of our journey. We are building a complete production platform around duck cells and we want our next product to be a daily product. We like the idea of a duck burger. Duck meat is a great combination of rich taste and nutrition and it’s very popular in Asia. So we are definitely looking at the Asian market, like any food company willing to have the biggest positive impact should because this is where meat demand is rapidly growing.