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How Believer Meats is building the future for cultivated chicken


For years, analysts and entrepreneurs have said that someday, cultivated meat is going to be huge. 

As Believer Meats begins construction on its commercial-scale facility in Wilson, North Carolina, the company is quickly getting to the huge part. The 200,000-square-foot facility will have an initial capacity to make 22 million pounds of cultivated meat annually.

“We have plenty of space to expand as we go forward in the future,” said Michael Lenahan, executive vice president of global commercialization at Believer Meats. “The total lot size is approximately 43 acres.”

Believer Meats broke ground on the facility in December. As it stands today, the building will be the world’s largest cultivated meat plant when operations start in the first quarter of 2024. Lenahan said that when the facility starts producing chicken meat grown from cells in bioreactors, the factory will have 100 employees.

Lenahan said company officials are optimistic that they will receive positive news from regulators that will allow them to start selling and distributing Believer’s cultivated meat in the U.S. soon after the plant goes into operation.

“The way that we have it planned right now is at the beginning, we’ll be off to a very good start,” Lenahan said.

Triangulating an ideal location in North Carolina

Believer Meats, which is based in Israel, announced the location of its commercial-scale plant in the U.S. after closing its $347 million Series B funding round in late 2021. Lenahan said the company spent 10 months on planning and site selection, concentrating on the eastern side of the United States. 

Wilson County, North Carolina was chosen as the perfect location for the company, Lenahan said. The state has a track record of working with tech companies, and the county is a short drive from the Research Triangle — the area between three research universities, North Carolina State, Duke and UNC Chapel Hill. Lenahan said the region has a high-quality talent pool, and the company will be able to draw the professionals it needs locally.

 

A group of well dressed people in white hard hats stand on a cleared lot with construction equipment in the background

From left, Believer Meats Vice President for Operations Kash Muthuraman, COO Gustavo Burger, CEO Nicole Johnson-Hoffman, Executive Vice President for Global Commercialization Michael Lenahan and Chief Administrative Officer Jennifer D. Henderson at the groundbreaking for the company’s commercial-scale plant in Wilson, North Carolina.

Permission granted by Believer Meats

 

 

 

The state also made economic incentives available. The One North Carolina Fund, a government fund under control of the state’s Department of Commerce, is giving Believer Meats a $500,000 performance-based grant to assist in locating its facility there. The state funds are not given upfront, according to North Carolina’s commerce department, and companies need to meet job creation and capital investment targets. 

Lenahan said Believer Meats’ workforce in North Carolina will include a range of positions — including Ph.D.-level scientists and researchers, as well as workers who don’t need such extensive scientific knowledge. According to the North Carolina Department of Commerce, the average annual salary at Believer Meats will be about $60,087, and the new jobs will generate an annual payroll impact of more than $6 million.

A world’s first facility

In 2021, Believer Meats started operating in one of the world’s first pilot-scale facilities for cultivated meat in Rehovot, Israel. The company’s commercial-scale facility in North Carolina is the first in the world that is actually under construction, although other companies, including Upside Foods, Eat Just and SuperMeat, have announced their intentions to build similar facilities this year. 

As Believer Meats officials designed the North Carolina facility, Lenahan said they worked closely with experienced engineering design firms, including German engineering specialist GEA and engineering and design firm Gray. They’ve also been in touch with the USDA branch office in North Carolina, since the federal agency needs to approve plants where cultivated meat is produced.

 

A close up view of a rendering of Believer Meats' commercial facility. The entry portion is navy blue with many windows and Believer's logo. Lower beige wings with navy blue roofs are on the sides.

A rendering of Believer Meats’ commercial-scale facility in Wilson, North Carolina.

Courtesy of Believer Meats

 

 

“As a general rule of thumb, we make sure we’re always focusing on the highest-skilled and most experienced groups as we move forward,” Lenahan said.

The new facility, he said, will be much like Believer Meats’ pilot plant in Israel, just bigger. There will be no major changes to the science and procedures, which were described in detail in a paper published last month in Nature Food co-authored by Believer founder and Chief Science Officer Yaakov Nahmias that has been praised for its level of transparency. The paper explains how the company grows fibroblast cells in serum-free culture media at high densities and differentiate some of them into fat cells. The paper also outlines how the company blends its cultivated chicken cells with plant-based proteins to make a final product.

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