Tackling the cell-based meat cost curve

The GFI Science & Technology team analyzes the primary cost drivers of cell culture media and highlights where innovation is needed to bring cell-based meat down the cost curve.
Science graphic

The GFI Science & Technology team recently released a white paper analyzing the primary cost drivers of cell-based meat. This paper also explores what areas of innovation could bring cell-based meat production down the cost curve. 

Why we developed this white paper

Many forward-thinking industry leaders across diverse sectors are exploring opportunities to contribute to the cell-based meat industry through products, services, and enabling technologies. At the same time, the number of investments into cell-based meat companies has blossomed, and these companies are progressing to larger rounds of funding requiring more rigorous diligence assessments.

To inform these strategic business development decisions and investment decisions with insights regarding scale-up and cost reduction, GFI’s Science & Technology Team has discussed findings from our preliminary cost estimate exercises for the cell-based meat industry with hundreds of individuals across dozens of meetings, workshops, and seminars.

Because demand for these insights has increased substantially in recent months, we decided to develop this analysis into a standalone white paper that is more widely shareable. Readers should take these findings at face value—as an informative and useful exercise that sheds light on several approaches for achieving substantial progress down the cost curve, not as the final word on what the cell-based meat field can achieve nor as a prescriptive guide for the definitive media formulation at production scale.

We anticipate that cell-based meat companies will continue to develop innovative new methods and to refine existing approaches to tackle the challenges associated with cost and scale, and their own calculations will vary from these independent estimates.

We initially conducted this analysis for two purposes: a) to decide whether we felt cell-based meat could ultimately be economically viable at scale and thus worth supporting within our organizational mission, and b) to identify the most compelling opportunities to accelerate progress down the cost curve, which could be through industry partnerships, starting new companies, and/or catalyzing basic research. As our understanding of the industry has deepened, this analysis has been continuously refined and expanded throughout the past 18 months. This publication offers a snapshot of our latest key findings, along with a detailed articulation of the rationale and justification of various assumptions and approximations applied within the model.

The path to price parity

The key takeaways from this analysis are:

1) It is likely that cell-based meat can ultimately achieve price parity with mainstream conventional meat once produced at industrial scale. There is no single path to achieving cost reduction of this magnitude, but rather there is vast opportunity to leverage a number of distinct and complementary approaches. We anticipate that many of these factors can be substantially further optimized beyond the analysis in this analysis, as we have intentionally incorporated conservative estimates and assumptions at many levels.

2) Cell culture medium—the most significant cost driver—can be produced completely free of animal-derived components and at scales and price points several orders of magnitude lower than current bench-scale costs without relying on fundamentally new technologies or innovations. While there are many aspects that require optimization, none of the assumptions or estimates within this analysis rely on technological “moonshots” that are unprecedented or that require novel inventions.

3) The yield and efficiency of cell-based meat production can be influenced through many variables within the design and operation of the industrial-scale manufacturing process, and a holistic model can inform tradeoffs between various parameters and identify pain points for concerted R&D focus. For example, analyzing the residence time and yield of a batch versus semi-continuous process (and therefore the economics of each approach) can guide cell line developers in determining the desired proliferative capacity of their cells.

The purpose of this analysis is not to optimize an exact formulation but to identify the primary cost drivers of a generic formulation and present a roadmap for cost reduction of those components. While optimizing the precise formulation for a given cell type and production environment will ultimately be critical for each cell-based meat company, this is neither necessary nor feasible for a generalized cost estimation exercise at this level. Components that were very minor contributors to the total cost were not exhaustively analyzed. For example, performing a complete nitrogen or carbon balance is not warranted for the purpose of this exercise because medium components like amino acids and glucose contribute negligibly to the total cost. (For instance, amino acids contribute less than a hundredth of one percent of the total medium cost—and less than a tenth of one percent of even just the basal medium cost—for the base case scenario in this analysis.)

What we hope to illuminate

There exists a tremendous opportunity to rethink cell culture medium entirely for the cell-based meat industry. Compared to applications in biopharma, cell therapeutics, or biomedical research, the cell-based meat industry presents a whole new paradigm for cost-benefit analysis and optimization. For example, raw materials like hydrolysates or polysaccharides from large-scale agricultural processing could serve as inputs for cell-based meat medium rather than relying on highly purified amino acids and sugars. Thus, the formulations developed for large-scale clean meat production may look quite different from the formulation used in this analysis—or indeed from any existing formulation—but the primary cost drivers identified through this approach will still hold.

Similarly, operational and process design insights from a wide array of industries—not just from biopharma or other animal cell culture processes but also from food production, fermentation, and even industrial chemistry—should be leveraged for developing industrial production frameworks for cell-based meat. The manufacturing facilities for cell-based meat will likely resemble a food production environment more than a biopharmaceutical manufacturing suite, but it is important to acknowledge which operational insights from each context are indispensable and which are malleable.

This analysis serves as a resource for assessing economic viability, evaluating cost reduction claims made by cell-based meat companies, identifying commercial opportunities within the growing cell-based meat ecosystem, and articulating high-impact research projects for advancing the industry. This work has been critically reviewed by over a dozen external experts ranging from bioprocess engineers in food and biopharma to business development leads at cell culture media suppliers.

As with all of GFI’s white papers, we will continue to refine and revise this analysis as the field matures and more data are gathered. We welcome feedback and critique. We hope that this analysis will serve as a foundation for additional analyses that incorporate empirical data, creative solutions, and more sophisticated models—including a comprehensive Cost of Goods (COGS) analysis that we have underway that will go in-depth into all aspects of cell-based meat production from biopsy to packaging.


Liz specht, ph. D.


Liz Specht oversees GFI’s Science and Technology department to build a roadmap for accelerating alternative protein research while empowering scientists to execute on this vision. Areas of expertise: plant-based meat, fermentation, technical analyses, forecasting and modeling, synthetic biology, public speaking.