Trends in cultivated meat scale-up and bioprocessing

In early 2023, we partnered with 30 companies in the cultivated meat industry, including producers and suppliers. Our focus was to assess current production capabilities and outline projected scale-up plans by surveying trends in equipment and material usage, production facilities, food safety, and scaling strategies.

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Executive summary

The survey and the full report encompass extensive information regarding the details of bioprocessing, scaling, and the materials and equipment utilized in cultivated meat production. Below are the selected key insights from the report.

  • The industry currently operates on a small scale, with most productions at the kilogram level. Many companies plan to scale up with large bioreactors in the next three years, enabling significantly larger annual production in the order of tons.
  • Companies are exploring various bioprocessing techniques and bioreactor designs for process optimization, including stirred-tank or air-lift bioreactors, fed-batch or continuous modes of operation, and strategies like recycling and filtration to reduce costs.
  • Some companies face knowledge gaps in regulatory affairs, signaling a need for collaboration with regulatory agencies to establish frameworks.
  • Cultivated meat companies are investigating diverse fit-for-purpose scaling strategies, bioreactors, and operational methods. Due to the specific requirements of each cell type and product, a universal bioprocess and scaling solution may not be feasible. Consequently, there’s a demand for additional techno-economic models and experimental data to fine-tune bioprocesses for each specific product type.

Our key recommendations

We provide the following recommendations to cultivated meat suppliers, manufacturers, investors, and R&D labs, to help accelerate the scale-up of cultivated meat and reduce the cost of production.

Overall, we advise suppliers, companies, and academic labs to collaborate on creating affordable serum-free media options and fit-for-purpose equipment, aiming to streamline efforts, enhance efficiency, and promote sustainable growth.

Selected recommendations to suppliers and manufacturers

  1. Design scalable and cost-effective bioreactors and equipment.
  2. Enhance accessibility and affordability of growth factors, media, additives, and equipment such as bioreactors and filters.
  3. Adopt food-grade materials or other innovative methods, such as determining the bottlenecks or tradeoffs that exist for using more affordable 304 stainless steel alloys compared to 316 alloys for bioreactors and other equipment, to lower equipment expenses, moving away from reliance on pharmaceutical-grade standards.

Selected recommendations to researchers and R&D teams

  1. Develop affordable and effective media components such as growth factors.
  2. Enhance media formulations using AI and genome-scale metabolic models.
  3. Implement simulation and modeling techniques to optimize bioprocesses.
  4. Design automated cell separation systems, enhance tangential flow filtration systems, design fit-for-purpose bioreactors, and create high-throughput methods for harvesting.

Selected recommendations to investors

  1. Support research, companies, and startups dedicated to developing cost-effective growth factors, peptides, and recombinant proteins at scale and reducing the cost of basal media. 
  2. Fund companies that are developing scalable bioreactors with cost-effective materials and fit-for-purpose designs.
  3. Invest in crucial research areas for cultivated meat growth, including optimizing bioprocessing through simulation and modeling.

Unifying terminology for scaling cultivated meat processes

In response to the lack of standardized categorization and terminology to describe the scaling of cultivated meat processes, we aimed to understand the criteria and terminologies companies use to categorize their processes (such as commercial vs industrial). This led to the development of a proposed terminology structure for scaling cultivated meat processes, which aims to unify language and address discrepancies in categorization. We encourage cultivated meat stakeholders to use this guide in determining the stage of their production. 

This figure defines common terminology related to the cultivated meat scale up process. In the r&d phase, bioreactors less than three liters in size produce grams of cultivated meat per production cycle. At bench scale, bioreactors less than 25 liters produce less than 10 kilograms of cultivated meat per cycle. During the pre-pilot stage, bioreactors less than 100 liters produce tens of kilograms of cultivated meat or less per cycle. At pilot scale, bioreactors less than 1,000 liters produce hundreds of kilograms of cultivated meat or less per cycle. At the industrial scale, bioreactors less than 50,000 liters produce tens of tons of cultivated meat or less percycle. At commodity scale, bioreactors greater than 50,000 liters produce more than tens of tons of cultivated meat per production cycle.
Unified terminology to describe the scale-up of cultivated meat

The projected growth trajectory of the cultivated meat production

In 2021, McKinsey forecasted the cultivated meat market to potentially reach production volumes ranging from 1k to 75k tons by 2025 and between 400k to 2.1M tons by 2030. 

Based on data acquired in this survey, a total industry output of approximately 125k tons by the end of 2026 may be possible based on estimates for facility annual production volumes transitioning from kilograms in 2023 to tons in 2026, and as larger facilities come online. However, many external factors may influence the industry’s future growth and production capacity, so these early projections will need to be validated as larger facilities are commissioned in the coming years. 

This figure shows the amount of cultivated meat that companies are estimated to produce by the end of 2026. There were 19 respondents. Two respondents stated that their companies are estimated to produce 100-1,000 kg of cultivated meat. Three respondents stated they’re estimated to produce 1-20 tons of cultivated meat. Five respondents stated that they’re estimated to produce 10-100 tons of cultivated meat. Four are estimated to produce 100-1,000 tons. Three are estimated to produce 1,000-5,000 tons. Two are estimated to produce 5,000 to 10,000 tons.
The amount of cultivated meat that companies expect to produce by the end of 2026

Unveiling key insights into cultivated meat main production facilities

In our survey, we thoroughly explored various aspects of the cultivated meat industry, including major costs, equipment, scaling strategies, facility size and capacity, commissioning time, and sustainability considerations such as renewable energy and recycling strategies. Our goal was to understand the specifications and key considerations for the main production facility in the cultivated meat industry, including methods to mitigate costs. These insights can be found in the full report.

One key result from the survey indicated that recycling is a crucial aspect of cultivated meat processing due to the substantial cost of media. A significant number of cultivated meat companies are already engaged in recycling media, further emphasizing its importance within the industry.

A majority of companies surveyed are planning to utilize stirred-tank bioreactors for their main production facility, with a few companies opting for air-lift bioreactors. Among those disclosing bioreactor sizes, the most commonly cited range is 10,000-50,000 L, followed by 5,000-10,000 L and smaller than 1,000 L.

Exploring bioprocessing details in cultivated meat production

This section of the report summarizes our findings on bioprocessing details, covering media development, serum replacement and antibiotic use, sterilization techniques, process monitoring, proliferation, differentiation, automation, simulation, and beyond.


Bioreactor production yield

Yield in cultivated meat and seafood production is influenced by several factors including bioprocess design, cell type, media formulation, and bioreactor type, directly impacting production efficiency and economic viability. Responses from various companies indicate a wide range of observed or expected yields, from 5-10 g/L to as high as 300-360 g/L. This variation suggests differences in bioprocessing techniques, cell types, and scales, making it challenging to predict industry-wide yields. Nevertheless, these findings provide a valuable baseline for monitoring yield progress as the industry evolves.

This figure shows the range of the reported and estimated production yield for nine cultivated meat companies. Responses indicate a wide range of yields, from 5 to 10 grams per liter to as high as 300 to 360 grams per liter. For comparison, one cultivated meat company (believer meats) published an estimated average yield of 360 grams per liter for their cultivated chicken in two-liter bioreactors. Sinke et al. Estimated the industry may be able to reach an average yield of 150 grams per liter in larger-scale facilities by 2050.
The reported and estimated yield of production of nine cultivated meat companies. Each bar represents one response.

Cell growth during proliferation

Our survey indicates that among respondents, single-cell suspension was the most common, followed by adherent microcarriers. In companies with larger production capacities, single-cell suspension and growth in aggregates were predominant methods. While many companies stated that their process includes a differentiation phase, further research and innovations are necessary to design scalable bioprocesses for structured cultivated meat products that require differentiation and scaffolding.

This graph shows the results of a survey question that asked respondents, “how are cells being grown during the proliferation phase? Select all that apply. ” there were 23 respondents. 13 said single-cell suspension, 10 said adherent microcarriers, 9 said growth in aggregates, and four said adherence to scaffolding.
The method of cell growth during the proliferation phase. Please note this graph is representative of data collected from all respondents, including companies in various stages of maturity.

Bioreactors and mode of operation

Bioreactor types and modes of operation play a critical role in cultivated meat production, affecting efficiency and cost. According to our survey, the most common mode of operation is fed-batch, followed by continuous processing and simple batch processing, with perfusion being less common. Advancements in low-cost media production are needed to explore unconventional scaling strategies. Designing fit-for-purpose bioreactors and auxiliary equipment, such as cell retention devices and filtration systems, can also significantly impact efficacy. Further, stirred-tank reactors are the most commonly used bioreactor, potentially due to their adaptation from the pharmaceutical industry, but other types like air-lift and hollow-fiber remain relatively unexplored. A comparative assessment of these systems for scaling cultivated meat production could provide valuable insights.

This figure shows the results of the survey question, “what kind of bioreactor do you use for proliferation? Select all that apply. ” there were 22 respondents. 20 said stir tank, seven said multiple, five said rocking bed, three said hollow fiber, two said air-lift, two said other, and one said fixed-bed.
The types of bioreactors used by cultivated meat companies for proliferation
This figure shows the results of a survey question, “what is your mode of operation in your proliferation process? Select all that apply. ” there were 22 respondents. 13 said fed-batch, 10 said batch, 10 said continuous processing, 9 said multiple nodes, and eight said perfusion.
The mode of operation during proliferation used by cultivated meat companies.

Scaling challenges

When asked about scale-up challenges, respondents identified timely access to supplies and equipment, achieving the desired texture, and obtaining suitable equipment as significant hurdles.

This figure shows the results of a survey question, “what challenges did you face during process development and scale up? ” 20 respondents scored each variable on a challenge scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most challenging. The survey found “lack of or delay in supply availability and equipment/material lead time” to be the most challenging with an average score of 7. 1. Other challenging factors were: obtaining desired texture (6. 1), lack of fit-for-purpose equipment (5. 9), making the process fully animal free (5. 6), failure of scale-up runs due to lack of desired yield (5. 0), pilot runs did not accurately represent large scale manufacturing (4. 8), failure of scale-up runs due to contamination (4. 6), and avoiding gmo labeling on the end products (4. 2).
Top challenges faced by cultivated meat companies.

Urgent cost-reduction challenges

Urgent cost-reduction priorities include recombinant proteins, peptides, growth factors, basal media, and bioreactors. These responses reinforce media and bioreactor costs as central challenges.

This figure shows the results of a survey question, “what products do you want to see a cost reduction for most urgently? ” there were 20 respondents who ranked each list item on an importance scale of 1-10, where 10 was the most important. Respondents most urgently wanted to see a cost reduction for recombinant-proteins, petpides, and growth factors, giving this an average ranking of 9. Other list items were: bioreactors (7. 2), basal media (7. 0), added factors (6. 8), filtration units (6. 5), sterilization equipment other than filtration devices (5. 9), and scaffolds (4. 1).
The products that companies want to see a cost reduction for most urgently.

Safety considerations

Food safety is of utmost importance in cultivated meat production, driving the need for comprehensive testing and prevention measures. Therefore, our survey further aimed to understand the safety and quality tests conducted by cultivated meat companies. We found that microbial testing and contamination checks are the most frequent post-production quality control and safety analyses conducted.

Although contamination wasn’t a top concern in our survey, we sought to pinpoint its sources to help the industry identify potential risks. Contamination in cultivated meat can arise from raw materials, processing, and product handling, with process contamination posing a relatively larger risk. Overall, our findings underscore the industry’s focus on addressing contamination risks to uphold rigorous safety standards.

Respondents were asked, “what do you think is the biggest source of imcrobial contamination risk with cultivated meat? ” there were 22 respondents. 13 said process contamination, two said raw material contamination, and seven said final product contamination.
The major sources of contamination reported by 22 cultivated meat companies.
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Discover the key scale-up and bioprocessing takeaways from a comprehensive survey of 30 cultivated meat companies and suppliers.

Meet the authors

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Faraz Harsini, M.Sc., Ph.D., DipACLM


Faraz analyzes how best to scale the cultivated meat industry and ensure that products can enter and grow in the marketplace as quickly as possible.

Areas of expertise: biotechnology, cultivated meat, technical analysis and research

Elliot swartz, ph. D.

Elliot Swartz, Ph.D.


Elliot Swartz analyzes scientific progress and bottlenecks in cultivated meat.

Areas of expertise: cultivated meat: cell culture media, costs, and environmental impact