The $6K burger. Investing in your competitors. Boxed picks its partner.
We’re in the first decade of a century-long shift in the meat industry.
Last week leading Canadian deli meat producer Maple Leaf Foods invested in startup Entomo Farms, a cricket and mealworm protein producer.
And the deal is just the latest stream in a growing torrent of leading meat producers shifting resources away from animals toward insects, plants, and lab-grown meat.
For example, Cargill has backed lab-grown meat startup Memphis Meats, pea protein producer Puris, and Calysta, a company designing methane-based proteins. Tyson invested in Memphis Meats and Beyond Meat, while poultry conglomerate PHW backed lab-grown chicken startup SuperMeat.
What’s the trend?
Soy and veggie burgers are nothing new, but plant-based meat substitutes have found new life lately backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in VC funding.
Meanwhile, startups and researchers are developing more efficient ways to grow meat cells in labs. Since the world’s first lab-grown burger debuted in 2013, scientists have lowered lab-grown meat’s retail cost per pound from $1.2M to $6,000. (For a deeper dive on cost reduction, see this terrific Wired piece).
At this rate, we could be celebrating over a lab-grown turkey by Thanksgiving 2026.
The US Cattlemen’s Association and Missouri lawmakers have tried to wield regulatory power to protect animal meat from next-gen alternatives. But Cargill, Tyson, and others are trying to co-opt the trend rather than fight it.
Turning a $26B ship: betting on competitors
Leading meat players are massive. But massive companies can change.
Nintendo launched as a playing card company. IBM used to sell punch card equipment. And while shifts can seem inevitable in retrospect, it’s easy to go wrong — just ask Xerox, which abandoned its personal computer business to refocus on photocopiers.
To stay relevant across decades, companies sometimes need to take a step back and consider the role they fill in people’s lives beyond concrete products.
By following its broader purpose of nutrition, Cargill will still be Cargill even once its beef is grown in labs rather than harvested from cows.
For more about the future of protein — both plant-based and lab-grown — check out our newest flash briefing here.