Making Meat, Making History

November 17, 2021

UPSIDE Foods opens the world’s most advanced cultivated meat production facility, and with it a new chapter for the company and the industry

By Uma Valeti, MD

Founder & CEO, UPSIDE Foods

November 4, 2021 marked an historic day for us here at UPSIDE Foods and for the food system at large. We officially opened our state-of-the-art Engineering, Production and Innovation Center (we call it EPIC), a culmination of several major technical and commercial milestones that are unparalleled in our industry. It marks the end of a one-year journey to build our first production facility — and what a journey it has been! — and the beginning of the next chapter for the cultivated meat industry.

But before I tell you more about EPIC, I want to take a step back and share with you how we got here. Our team has been working for six years to bring cultivated meat to the table. I imagine a world where we have delicious, real meat that is made with care and respects the animals and the earth it comes from. It’s a dream that I’ve had since childhood. I grew up eating meat and loving it, but I didn’t like how it came to the table.

Early in my career, I trained at the Mayo Clinic as a cardiologist. While I was there, I realized that some of the technology that we were using to save people with heart attacks could also save our food system and our planet. That is when I realized that we could grow real meat directly from animal cells without having to raise animals. So I left a career that I loved to come and pursue this dream. It’s not a dream anymore. It’s UPSIDE now.

Here at UPSIDE, we believe that everyone will share in the benefits of better meat. There’s upside for us, upside for animal welfare, upside for the environment and — of course — lots of upside for flavor. We’re making food that you can feel really good about eating and sharing with your family and friends.

 

EPIC is UPSIDE’s first major production facility: 53,000 square feet of meat-making promise, now capable of producing 50,000 pounds of finished product each year with an eventual annual capacity of over 400,000 pounds. Opening a facility like this – the first of its kind – is a tremendous accomplishment in itself. That our team got it done, on schedule and under budget, during a global pandemic, is a tribute to the let’s-get-it-done approach that makes our UPSIDE team extraordinary.

When I think back to breaking ground on this facility in September 2020, all the cards were stacked against us. Earlier that year, before COVID hit, we had raised our Series B round to build this place, and we felt as though we were on top of the world. Then the world collapsed around us. As the pandemic emerged, we quickly sent our team home and were one of the first Bay Area companies to go into lockdown. We ran R&D with a skeleton crew on shifts to minimize contact. With over 100 people working at the EPIC construction site on some days, we had to implement many layers of extra precautions to keep them safe. And we found out first-hand what a challenge it is to source manufacturing equipment when global supply chains have ground to a halt, with key pieces of equipment for EPIC stuck for months on container ships waiting to dock at the Port of Oakland.

There are a few key moments in the history of UPSIDE Foods that have made this journey feel real to me. When I first tasted our delicious meat, when we brought on each of our committed partners, and when our team grew to over 100 people.

But nothing has made it feel more real than setting foot in EPIC for the first time. To see our vision come to life — at such a massive scale, in the face of so many challenges — has been more emotional than I could have imagined. We’ve never been so close to realizing our mission of a future-friendly meat.

EPIC represents the next chapter for our company. It will allow us to build on our learnings to bring products to market at scale, and it will help us learn new things, too. We’re going to do two things at EPIC. First, we’re going to start producing meat for our first group of restaurant partners. You’ll be able to experience our products and taste them for yourself. Second, we’re going to use this space to improve and to innovate, so that we can continue learning to make meat better.  We’ll use it to test out new inventions and technologies, to continue to push the limits of what we know is possible in service of our goal to make our products widely available.

We built EPIC in the middle of a neighborhood, where you can walk your dog, grab a cup of coffee, meet your friends and live next to the most advanced meat-making facility in the world. You’ll be able to come visit us here, and see for yourself how your meat will be made.

When we started this company six years ago, the world was full of skeptics – and there are still many. But here at UPSIDE, we are shifting mindsets and proving that this is possible, one step at a time. From the world’s first cultivated beef meatball in 2016, to the first-ever cultivated chicken and duck just a year later, we’ve led the industry at every step. Today, nearly 100 companies around the world have followed us on that journey to bring meat to the table in this new way. We still have many more challenges ahead, and as we work toward solving them we’ll share what we learn so that the industry can continue to grow along with us.

We’ve done all of this with the goal of being as transparent as we can from the very beginning. That hasn’t always been the easiest choice for our team, since it requires a level of vulnerability in the face of public scrutiny. But at each turn, we’ve chosen a more open path because we believe it’s what’s right in the long run.

Our team has followed this principle at many points. We’ve been open to the world from our very first grams of meat that we produced; even when we were still a tiny company of four employees, we held a public tasting of the world’s first beef meatball. We built huge windows throughout the facility so that visitors can peek into our meat-making process any time. We’ve brought together a big tent of stakeholders with the Alliance of Meat, Poultry and Seafood Innovation, and worked with the North American Meat Institute. We’ve also worked closely with the media, inviting a documentary film crew to follow our work closely for four years to produce the upcoming film Meat the Future, and collaborating with the authors of most of the major books about this space to date.

To those of you who are just getting to know us: Our vision here at UPSIDE is to make our favorite food a force for good. We can’t wait to show you how your meat will be made. We can’t wait to show you how we can make meat with care, meat that’s safe and clean and tasty – meat with real upside. We are starting here in California, and we can’t wait to meet you – whether you are in Des Moines, Delhi or Dubai.

In the meantime, we’re just getting started. Let’s make some meat!

For more news and updates from Upside Foods, follow on Instagram or Twitter @UpsideFoods or visit at www.upsidefoods.com.