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Podcast: When Can South Africans Stop Eating Meat with Brett Thompson (Mzansi Meat Co.)

28.07.2022
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Brett Thompson is an animal advocate and the CEO of Mzansi Meat Co. a biotechnology research company on a mission to reimagine our food systems and the way we make meat.  So, when can South Africans stop eating meat?  In this episode, Eitan and Brett sit down to discuss lab grown meat and Mzansi Meat Co’s relentless pursuit to bring healthy, accessible and affordable meat to your braais, potjies and shisa nyamas by growing it from cells, without harming animals.    

Transcript available at the bottom of this post.

 

 

 

 

Transcript

 

Brett Thompson (00:00):
We got a ton of beer. And I was like the one thing I always would like, the reason why I want my own company is just like a beer. I have a beer stocked in the fridge

Eitan Stern (00:08):
Testing testing 1, 2, 3 testing testing, Brett Thompson loves to drink beer <laugh>. So my mentor, he in his company is tequila <laugh> and he is like, we celebrate with tequila and, and we drink a lot of tequila.

Brett Thompson (00:23):
<laugh> that’s that’s too. That gets to the point too quickly, beer, a slow, a slow

Eitan Stern (00:28):
Celebration. You know what I heard? Do, you know, do you know what a good beer taste like, what taste like home?

Eitan Stern (00:38):
Welcome to legalese’s big fish stories. The podcast where we showcase local south African entrepreneurs, their stories, and their big relevance to the world, around them. As lawyers, working with startups and established businesses in the tech and creative industries, we get front row seats to some incredible business adventure rides. The problem is that as lawyers, our work is confidential with big fish stories. We’re going inside the room with some proud south African entrepreneurs to talk about their airy highs, lonely lows, and creamy middles of the road to success. As a country, deep in economic development, there is massive potential for smart entrepreneurs to build something great. Join us as we meet some of these big fish and find out how they’re looking to make their ponds even bigger. I’m your host managing director of legalese, Eitan stern. All right. So sitting here today with the man, the myth, the legend, Brett Thompson, Brett, tell me a little bit about yourself. Who are you, where do you come from? And ideally, what do you do for a living?

Brett Thompson (01:37):
Eitan thanks very much for having me. I’m Brett Thompson again, co-founder and CEO of Mzansi meat co that’s my day job. And we are Africa’s first cultivated meat company, which I’m sure I can unpack a little bit later.

Eitan Stern (01:49):
I’m gonna want you to, but we can pause that for a second. Yeah,

Brett Thompson (01:52):
Yeah. Let’s yeah. We’ll keep the meat of the matter for now. And uh, I’m yeah, local boy. Capetonian spent the last 15 years of my life working in food, uh, alternative protein to be more, uh, exact and also working in animal advocacy, kind of combined the two as a career path and been lucky to do it, cuz it took me to places all over the place, uh, the world rather including Durban, which is, you know, <laugh>, you know, sort after destination of people from Santon, but

Eitan Stern (02:18):
Summer, all year

Brett Thompson (02:18):
Round. Oh no, it’s it’s nine to 10 months of summer and two months of hell that’s <laugh> and, and then more, more excitingly I guess, was a couple of years in Berlin and, and, and spent some time in the states, et cetera, working with people from all over the world, looking at food and, and talking about ways to, I guess, make food better.

Eitan Stern (02:37):
Okay. I can assume we can just kick this off the bat. You’re a vegan.

Brett Thompson (02:41):
I wouldn’t say so. Okay. I, um, I, you know,

Eitan Stern (02:44):
You wouldn’t say so from a label perspective, you wouldn’t say, do you know you don’t need meat products?

Brett Thompson (02:48):
I, so I don’t. So I avoid animal products and you know, I think it’s probably helpful to describe food as vegan. Okay. I dunno if it’s helpful to describe people. Okay. I think we’ve got enough identities. I like that. And, and, and then I think also recently two months ago, after not eating meat for 15 years, I ate meat again. Yeah. With, with my company’s beef burgers. So yeah, it’s quite difficult when people ask me this

Eitan Stern (03:09):
Question. So let’s slow it down just a little bit. Tell me something. So you describe yourself as an animal activist. How did you land up in this career path? You you’re probably the only one that I know and you and people can’t see you, but you’re not in entire eye clothing. You don’t, you’re not wearing that. So what these shirts, so <laugh>, you’re, you’re, you’re just very suave. We’re in a beautiful tech like office there’s, post-its all around the walls and MacBook, you are not looking like the quintessential vegan activist. So how did you get into this?

Brett Thompson (03:35):
Yeah. If, I mean, look at you, you’ve got the top knots and the beard that’s bigger than mine. So people

Eitan Stern (03:39):
Would said don’t quite look like a lawyer.

Brett Thompson (03:41):
<laugh> we’ve got that in common. Yeah. Well also, I mean, I even tried to stay away from the term activist animal advocate is something that just seemed to have spoken to me again with a legal term over the past 10 years. And, um, you know, how did I get you? I did a course in applied ethics and you might even know the, the lecturer

Eitan Stern (03:57):
Who, who, yeah. So I did a course this course as well. Yeah. I think it also turned me vegetarian <laugh>

Brett Thompson (04:03):
Yeah, he’s got a pretty good hit rate at, uh, he’s at U C T. And I remember at the stage, a bunch of folks were thinking about it. So I just said, let me just take a jump and see what it’s like. And I think, you know, it was interesting in your early twenties and, but I was the Braai guy amongst my friends. Honestly, I was the guy that first hand on the tongs, um, was able to like, uh, you know, I really wanted to flip the flip the worse, make sure the chops were cooking correctly, et cetera. And, um, so that was who I was. And I mean, my mother at that stage where she’s been vegetarian now, 40 years, plus she, when I went home, you know, I was like, I’m, you know, stopping eating meats. And she laughed. And uh, she’ll last, last day and now been 15 years. Wow. And, um, it really in the beginning was something of a curiosity. I really just like getting challenged intellectually. And the discussions about the interests of animals were really interesting to me and particularly how we treat some animals one way and some others, another, and that was the conversation I was having sort of as an armchair activist. And then I kind of, when I moved from UCT to Stellenbosch, I was a bit of a traitor and I went across the curtain. The, you know,

Eitan Stern (05:05):
That’s about your third pun today. I hope you keep them coming. They

Brett Thompson (05:08):
Look, I am warm enough. So, um, uh, so moved across the curtain and, uh, I wrote my thesis on an economic case of vegetarianism. Okay. Which in an Afrikaans university in 2007, 2008 is pretty progressive,

Eitan Stern (05:20):
Pretty

Brett Thompson (05:20):
Progressive. You know, I was, I, I did used to wear headband by the way. Okay. Long hair. And, and I played in a heavy metal band. So I did fit a couple of the stereotypes. Um, maybe not the heavy metal part, but anyway, that kind of set me off on this journey where, where I found myself today, I got a job straight out. I actually dropped out of masters.

Eitan Stern (05:37):
Cause when we met, you were working for the fries for frys. Yes. Correct. And we met because I, I’m not much of a meat eater. And that was my favorite product. Yeah.

Brett Thompson (05:45):
I mean, you came up, you were 50% of the consumption of our nuggets. You were coming at those festivals with the green pop festivals. So yeah. That, and that’s, I mean, I got this, I landed this job straight out of varsity, well, I literally dropped out of varsity and he didn’t know what I was really doing and took a job in Durban. And most people were like, why are you gonna Durban? Even Durban people when I arrived, they were like, where are you from? I was like, Cape town. They’re like, are you sure

Eitan Stern (06:08):
Take off this airplane places? They’re

Brett Thompson (06:10):
Like, are you working at

Eitan Stern (06:11):
Uni? Yeah. Durban is the hidden secret. Yeah.

Brett Thompson (06:12):
No Durban is honestly one of the best places to live the greatest such great people.

Eitan Stern (06:16):
Yeah. But I’ve got, we, I’ve got more questions for you. Yeah. So, so you work for the frys family. Mm-hmm <affirmative> and then, and this starts off your career in, in animal advocacy. Yeah. So, so tell me something Brett, broadly speaking. So it sounds like we we’ve established your credentials about, about this. You’ve been working for the last 15 years and with animals and around food, eating animals essentially. Well, not eating animals broadly speaking. How are we globally doing in this challenge of trying to get people to stop eating meat or animal cruelty 20 years ago? It wasn’t a discussion nowadays today there’s more and more vegetarian options. How are we doing? Uh, have we made progress or is this like, we haven’t touched the surface.

Brett Thompson (06:55):
I think if you look at the numbers, no, we’re not doing well. Okay. People are eating more meat than they were eating 20 years ago

Eitan Stern (07:01):
Because more people in the world have suddenly have access to

Brett Thompson (07:04):
It. Yeah. So you’ve got your, um, your large emerging markets, China, India that are starting to consume more animal products. And, um, and America hasn’t really slowed down, which is a big, big consumer. There are some positive stories of Germany. And the UK for example, are developed markets which are start slowed down in their per capita consumption of intensive animal agriculture. So there are, there are some good stories, but if you look at it broadly speaking, if you including the south of the equator and when those economies start switching on, they’re gonna start eating more meat. Okay. So at the moment, yes, the awareness I would say is probably higher than it used to be, but the availability of products that are still animal based is too high and too readily available and too delicious. Unfortunately not, unfortunately that is it. It tastes too good. And it’s too well

Eitan Stern (07:48):
Priced. So this seems like a pretty good segue. So what is it that you guys are doing in Mzansi? So you guys have a part of a solution to this. What do you guys do? Well,

Brett Thompson (07:58):
First, I’m glad that you say a part of the solution because I feel a lot of people in the space that I’ve operated for the last 15 years have made it. It’s all about a silver bullet and it’s, which is not the case. It’s it’s incremental change is the only way you, I believe anything actually gets done. Um, and my understanding after 10, 15 years of working in animal advocacy, where I used to run campaigns such as meat free Mondays in January in South Africa, which were sort of compelling people for, uh, from a ethical or environmental or health reason to eat less meat. And then which is now, I mean, those are common known terms and people are pretty comfortable with them, but also at the same time, I was trying to promote plant-based meats as an option for that. And as much as

Eitan Stern (08:37):
I think, plant based meats, plant

Brett Thompson (08:38):
Based meats. So what, what is that? So, so we, uh, company, you mentioned frys and the number of beyond meats or some of the other companies around the world, they are taking, uh, vegetable proteins, and they are using, uh, flavors, natural spices, et cetera, to mimic the taste of meat

Eitan Stern (08:53):
And the texture,

Brett Thompson (08:53):
The texture. So it’s pea protein, it’s a, um, texturized, vegetable, protein, these, these types of things to kind of get that ground beef min or the process chicken nuggets, et cetera. So there definitely have come. The proven that’s been made over the last 20 years is

Eitan Stern (09:06):
Vast, but that’s not what you do,

Brett Thompson (09:07):
Not what we do. What are you doing? And, and the reason why we’re not doing is because I spend 15 years talking about that. And I thought there is a limit at which people will be wanting to jump from meat based to, to plant based. So what cultivated meat offers is something that is meat. It’s not plant based. It’s not in the middle, what we are trying to replicate at Mzansi at this office that we’re in and, um, the space where we are producing, um, our meat is we are trying to replicate the conditions that are founded in animal outside of an animal. Okay. And to break it down, can I just give you like the quick sort of overview of what that looks like? So it starts with a biopsy well,

Eitan Stern (09:46):
Well, before you get there, what’s the end product. I still haven’t got, got to producing you’re producing beef burgers, you’re producing beef burgers, beef burgers. So we go and take, go to a store, buy a Patty and be able to buy a beef burger that would not have had an animal had to die in the making at least

Brett Thompson (09:59):
So well at the moment, what it looks like is, uh, well, our first place is to, we wanna get into to restaurants. Okay. So we are working actually with in quite good discussions with RocoMamas who are owned by Spur. Um, and who’ve been very interested in what we’ve been doing for the last 12 months. That’s, that’s our very exciting project that we hope that’s

Eitan Stern (10:17):
Where so sooner RocoMamas, you’ll be able to get a lab grown.

Brett Thompson (10:19):
Yeah, we, we hope, uh, that’s what we’re hoping. So it’d probably be on a limited capacity in the beginning, but you know, the availability of cultivated meats as you scale becomes, you know, the economic stock ready stacking in your cool.

Eitan Stern (10:30):
I, I keep using the term lab growing. You keep saying cultivated growing. Is, is that the term cultivated meat?

Brett Thompson (10:35):
Yeah, I think the, um, from a, from our perspective and from an industry, our industry perspective cultivated just makes, um, a little bit more sense. And, and the reason why is also like lab grown is, is only the beginning of the process. Sure. It’s it’s there are labs in breweries. Yeah. Uh, but you don’t call it lab grown beer it’s.

Eitan Stern (10:53):
Yeah. So, so then getting back to briefly, or for the lay people listening to this like myself mm-hmm how does this work?

Brett Thompson (11:00):
So as a starting point, um, we are working with a, a sanctuary here in Grayton just about an hour or so from where our offices are. We then go and collect a tissue sample or muscle biopsy, which is about the size of a peppercorn. Uh, we work with the state vet, um, who does the whole process it’s

Eitan Stern (11:17):
Does an animal have to die to get that? No. No. So we,

Brett Thompson (11:19):
So the process that we working with the sanctuary and that’s why we chose Grayton is because they obviously care. I love a lot about their animals and, and they are able to ensure that those animals are just in, during the procedure, which is about five to 10 minutes long. They’re kept in the best condition. They’re given a painkiller and they’re up and running within an hour. Okay. So no animal has to die for this. Um, and, and it also results in us taking something that we don’t ever technically have to go

Eitan Stern (11:43):
Back. Good. Gotcha.

Brett Thompson (11:45):
So, but let

Eitan Stern (11:46):
A sample,

Brett Thompson (11:47):
But I’ll get, I’ll also maybe just touch on that. Cause I think that’s something also to flag. So once we brought it back, we bring it back to our facility. Well, now we bring it back to our lab here. In, in, in Woodstock, we isolate the cells. We kind of just add a bit of enzymes to kind of break down and, and, and get, um, what we’re looking for, which is, um, cells that have the ability to become muscle and fat. Uh, and we do that by feeding those cells and signaling to those cells through amino acids, through fatty acids, through inorganic salts, it’s it’s, um, insulin is what we use to, uh, signal to, to create fats and, and muscle are separate things. And that starts that process, which starts in, you would say test tube, which then eventually goes into, um, something that looks more of like what a vat, where you brew beer. Okay. That process, uh, takes about three to four weeks from where we get from a few cells, um, that start multiplying and multiplying, multiplying, multiplying until you’ve got enough muscle mass and fat mass to then harvest to then create a burger out of that. Incredible. And, um, so, so the great thing is that if, if you think about it, a conventional car takes 18 months on average to get to a slaughter mass

Eitan Stern (12:50):
From

Brett Thompson (12:50):
Birth, from birth mm-hmm <affirmative>. So, so we’re doing that in a month. Okay. At scale, you know, we we’re doing it on a, a small kilogram basis now, but at scale, we have the ability to be doing this in a tonnage at the same time speed, three to four weeks.

Eitan Stern (13:04):
So I like that you that’s, I mean, your company is thinking like, not just should no cars die for, for your product, but not even one car should die for it. And I was actually thinking this when I was preparing for this interview, is it important to you that no cars have to die? And it’s, and then the big question, how do you choose your car?

Brett Thompson (13:22):
It’s a great question. I’ll grab two questions. Um, look for my, from my perspective, uh,

Eitan Stern (13:27):
What we, in fact, the best in show of, uh, of

Brett Thompson (13:29):
Cars. Well, look, there’s actually, we did a campaign where we tried to get Cyril’s cows. Okay. We tried to get a sample

Eitan Stern (13:34):
Out of Cyril’s cars, but controversial at the moment.

Brett Thompson (13:36):
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, a year ago, like you can

Eitan Stern (13:37):
Imagine very expensive cars. Yeah.

Brett Thompson (13:39):
Very $2.9 million, I think. And now 40 million. No, you know, that’s no. Okay. So we, we, we luckily made a decision that we should stop this campaign cuz it’s a bit politically charged. So, so we changed our T in the beginning, we needed to find tissue samples. So we just found where, where we could, um, when we started the partnership and, and, and again, we, we, we genuinely just wanted to showcase the ability for us to make delicious protein, delicious meat, without the need to kill an animal. And, and when I say it’s, it’s a harmless process, I mean, it, we, we, we take a small incision and we take a, a tiny little muscles and fat sample from an animal. Well, when it, it comes to working with great and we, they’ve got about 200 animals, mostly pigs, uh, and we’ve got cell lines from pigs and cell lines from chickens and, and lamb, et cetera.

Brett Thompson (14:20):
So we’ve got a broad range, but we, we focused on beef as our first product. The main thing that we choose when we wanna choose one of these animals is a younger animal. And, uh, it’s, you are looking for the shoulder where there’s a vast Twitch muscle. Um, and that’s just the younger, younger cells, roughly. And, and that’s pretty much the, the, the, the choice in terms of the breed, the, the, we’ve got a number of different breeds we are actually looking at nguni, for example, but we’re finding that it’s not really the breed that might make the difference. It’s a way that, you know, what you feed the cells, but, uh, we still have to, we still have to kind of do a bit of R and D on that one.

Eitan Stern (14:52):
So, I mean, while this is gonna definitely help a lot of animals to, to not die. I mean, this doesn’t seem like an, this seems ethical, but this ethics, isn’t the thing driving this, this seems like a very, very effective way of creating burgers. Yeah. Right. Less amount of time probably. And it’s less resources that go into it.

Brett Thompson (15:08):
So it definitely water usage, land usage energy’s quite equivalent. Um, so I wouldn’t, uh, it’s we still require, um, uh, a decent amount of energy, but, um, in terms of all across the other, uh, the, the, the ticks, we, we definitely require far less. The thing is that it’s cost effectiveness is still, well, it’s not there yet. So when you up against the industry, that’s got a, you know, thousands of years on you, you you’ve gotta try and catch up quite quickly,

Eitan Stern (15:32):
But have you eaten one of these burgers? I can’t see. We can’t see you nodding

Brett Thompson (15:37):
<laugh>. I was, I was just remembering and tasting in my mouth. No, uh

Eitan Stern (15:40):
We’ve. You’ve, you’ve you’ve

Brett Thompson (15:41):
Eaten, so, yeah. So I,

Eitan Stern (15:42):
What the tastes like, can you, if you think back to the, the voice that you were turning on the fire,

Brett Thompson (15:46):
I think back all the time to that voice. Um, no, 15 years I stopped eating meats. Okay. Yeah. 15 years ago, I stopped eating meats. And just to give you the backstory, I can tell you the final result, but we then started like playing around when we first started getting muscle mass enough to kinda like sample with. And we, we work with the food technologist company, uh, to help, um, with the flavoring and getting into, to final form. Um, you don’t just eat raw meat. You, you kind of boerewors has got spices. So, you know, that first time we made this meatball, uh, which was just a couple of grams Taz my co-founder had one, and then I had one, I picked it up and I dropped it by mistake <laugh> and, uh, it rolled, I mean, it rolled under the kitchen. Uh <laugh> that would’ve been south Africa’s most expensive meatball, just rolling underneath a kitchen at maker’s landing <laugh>. So anyway, found it ate it. It was delicious. So I,

Eitan Stern (16:33):
You after have been on the floor and not,

Brett Thompson (16:35):
Under the shelf, look, I would’ve, I licked the dust off. It was no. And then, then we’re able to get to the stage of making burgers. I, we had this event here in Woodstock and, and we had about 50 odd people. We had some politicians, um, we wanted to get them to try it and, you know, cuz they, you can trust what they say. Um, and then we’ve got some chefs and, and a bunch of folks to kind of really, we want south Africans to try it. It’s no good me. Somebody who hasn’t eaten meat for 15 years. My co-founded Taz 15 years as well, 30 years. We’re not trying meat. We’re not the best to have the verdict. The best thing about it was when we started cooking them. The smell that permeated, I think that’s the right word across the, the room while you had 50 other people, people

Eitan Stern (17:10):
Were, was that smell of cooking meats in the Braai. Exactly. That’s incredible. And what did the, what did the politicians <laugh> politician would never lie what the politicians

Brett Thompson (17:18):
Say? I mean, I could trust him. Look, he was DA, so I don’t know where you sit on that side of the fence, but his name’s James vos and he was a, he’s an alderman at, uh,

Eitan Stern (17:25):
And what did he say? He loved

Brett Thompson (17:26):
It. He loved it. And then, and then the, I think the curiosity thing, I mean, for me when I ate it again, I, it, it just reminded me why meat is so good. Cause it tastes so delicious.

Eitan Stern (17:35):
So breath then. So realistically, how far away are we from first of all, from this being something that you can get at RocoMamas or in the Spar. Yeah. And then secondly, how far away are we from this being a common thing for consumers?

Brett Thompson (17:50):
I’m gonna add a third, um, a third one to that as well. Is that, how internationally, how is it gonna be common and also sort of looking locally? Cuz we wanna make meat for

Eitan Stern (17:57):
Africa. That’s actually my next two questions, which you, well, that’s fine.

Brett Thompson (18:00):
Well, let’s jump into them, but let me start in terms of here. Um, you know, the biggest thing, what we have to deal with locally is being able to get this to scale. Um sure. And to make it make sense for a south African to go to a RocoMamas to go into a restaurant and buy burger that is at a price point that they can afford. It is gonna be more expensive in the beginning. Our goal is to get this right in the first few months of next year. So that’s 2023. Okay. Um, it won’t be available for everybody to try. We might just be saying it’s like a lottery.

Eitan Stern (18:29):
So what it’s okay. So when I think about beyond burgers, which I eat from time to time. Yeah. It’s not cheap. It’s about 200 grand for a pack of two or three,

Brett Thompson (18:36):
Three pack of two.

Eitan Stern (18:37):
Yeah. So a pack of two, it’s not cheap, but it’s a really nice treat if you go to Abri or something. My worst part is when the meat eat to say, ah, that’s interesting. Can do you mind if I try that, it’s like, well you’ve got your Half dead cow there. Why don’t you eat that and leave my

Brett Thompson (18:50):
It’s like 25 rand of bite. You’re like,

Eitan Stern (18:52):
Oh, I got so, so, so that’s the sort of price point that you imagine in the next year or two you’ll get

Brett Thompson (18:56):
To, I think we’ll be in, in that realm. Um, I think, uh, the, the economics that we are, the unit economics that we’re working with is showcasing that we are gonna have a serious drop in prices over the next five years. And that’s where we wanna get to price parity and below to be honest, that’s our

Eitan Stern (19:09):
Goal. And I think that that’s, that’s a major step, right? If I think about Oat milk, which, uh, still is relatively expensive, it in Europe, it’s, it’s everywhere. It’s common. I think that that’s the idea. Once you can drop the price point below a certain amount and the taste is pretty decent, that’s what you’re aiming for, with your, with

Brett Thompson (19:25):
Your burgers. And, and I mean, again, sort of the cost, the big cost component at the moment is the media. What we feed the cells, it’s frightfully expensive at the moment, but we’ve been trying, we, I mean, we are gonna be reducing it by tenfold. I mean, the price of our burger has come down by tenfold in the last three months. Um, and, uh, and what that means for, for next year is another, we are hoping for another tenfold reduction sure. Which is gonna get to about 150 to 200 rand price point.

Eitan Stern (19:50):
So then let’s go back to this. So I assume you’re not guys are not the first people in the world that are doing this. So in other countries are other companies doing this and if they hit the market, see

Brett Thompson (19:59):
It. And I think that was why I wanted to add that international component to it because, uh, this industry is roughly 10 years old. Okay. 10 years old. So the first time a burger was made was 2013. It was a Dutch guy. It was $250,000 for one

Eitan Stern (20:11):
Petty. I remember to remember in the media.

Brett Thompson (20:13):
Yeah. Yeah. So that was, yeah. Then that kind of put the thing on the map. And there was from there it was one or two companies. Okay. Doing it in the space of less than 10 years, you’ve got now around a hundred companies working in the space globally, globally 25 are the ones that are like us trying to make a final product for consumer. The rest are up and downstream focusing on different components. I talked about the fermentors, I talked about the biore actors, uh, which is the same thing rather. And the, and the media, they’re all focusing on different aspects of, um, of the, of the process. Okay. So that means that you’ve got more people applying their resources and energy to, to solve a problem when it comes to being available in the market. Only in November slash December of 2020 in Singapore was the first time ever in the world that, uh, regulations gave approval to produce, to, um, distribute and then to sale and for consumers then to eat it. So that was the first time ever. And that was not even two years ago. Okay. It was, yeah. So, so you’ve got, so there’s a, now you’ve got 25 countries in different parts of the world and there’s a couple us and a couple in South Africa.

Eitan Stern (21:13):
So there are other people in South Africa.

Brett Thompson (21:14):
There is, yeah. There’s, there’s another company that’s working on venison and, and chicken. Okay. Um, and, and, and there’s companies working in Israel, there’s companies working in the Netherlands. There’s numerous companies working on varied, from seafood all the way around. Uh, but none of them have just been able to get to market regulations being one of them. Yeah. But producing at scale at a price point that people can purchase is also

Eitan Stern (21:34):
Part of, cause if I think about beyond, it was something I read about and read about it, read about, and then all of a sudden I saw it in the shelves in South Africa and now it’s everywhere. It’s. And so I imagine once it starts, it’s gonna start quickly. So I mean, before I do wanna ask about the regulations in a second, obviously as a lawyer, I find that interesting, but I’m gonna ask the question that I know everyone is thinking right now is the safe

Brett Thompson (21:54):
It’s meat, it’s meat, and it’s meat in made in a way that we don’t require antibiotics. We don’t require hormones. It’s made it in, you know, when you’re doing intensive animal agriculture, you’re putting a lot of animals in, in a very small condition, uh, tight conditions, let’s say, uh, where you get diseases spreading. So from a public health component, it’s far more safer from a personal health. You know, that’s why I, don’t knock meat because it is what we are making is meat. And it’s, if, if meat isn’t not safe, then you know, there’s, there can be them an argument made against what we’re doing. What we are hoping to achieve though, is we wanna be making better meat that might even require, well, for example, we might not even have cholesterol,

Eitan Stern (22:32):
But when, if you go to the store by a burger, that burger has not been through a beer type vet and hasn’t had chemicals put into it. If I think about, and I imagine this is where the anti or the meat lobby would probably hit you guys with this in the sense that like, this is people are even against GMO food. Like this is chemicals, chemicals, chemicals, lab grown. It’s very different to a car walking around a field. Yeah. Which gets killed and then you eat it.

Brett Thompson (22:57):
Yeah. So it’s a good, it’s a good, um, it’s a good framing. So I think the argument though, is the majority of the meat that we eat is not walking around in a, in a, in a, in a free range condition.

Eitan Stern (23:07):
It’s it looks like on

Brett Thompson (23:07):
The package. No, it’s not. It’s, I mean, particularly chicken chicken is

Eitan Stern (23:10):
We don’t have to get into too much. I’m just gonna see most people understand

Brett Thompson (23:14):
People, understand that kind of from that point of view, that, that, that the, that framing is, is, is, is

Eitan Stern (23:19):
Difficult to, if you don’t know, if you listen to this and you don’t know it’s time for you to know. Yeah. Yeah.

Brett Thompson (23:22):
Well, and I’m not that guy anymore. So, you know, I’m just making an, uh, so, so, um, but I think when it comes to what we’re, you know, that argument also like it’s chemicals it’s well, it’s, it’s, it’s what we’re using is food grade inorganic and organic types of fatty acids, proteins, et cetera, that your body and my body and the cow’s body. And we keep it the same temperature. By the way. I never mentioned that we keep it at 37 degrees, which is the same as us. Um, that’s a sweet spot.

Eitan Stern (23:47):
You’re recreating the situation that an animal would have to grow meat. You just recreating and outside the animal. Exactly. And probably if we think around about this outside of this example, probably find these products all over the place that we recreating. So well, people

Brett Thompson (24:00):
Are quite comfortable when they fermentation for something beer, as I mentioned, but there’s, you know, wine cheese, there’s the, the, the, the way of making, um, fermentation, which is essentially what we’re doing is, is you utilize in a lot of food production and it has been for, for millennial. So we are very comfortable with it. But what we are trying to do is sort of, uh, apply to different type of protein.

Eitan Stern (24:22):
So, and do you think this is that’s? I mean, maybe let me rephrase this. What do you think is gonna be your biggest battling getting this to market? And I assume there there’s gonna be a cultural education around this. South Africa’s a meat-eating culture. I imagine in Europe, Germany, meat-eating culture. I imagine the uphill battle that you guys will have to go to in reconvincing, people around that is gonna be steep. Do you think that that’s a challenge and if that’s not your main challenge, where do you think your main challenge is in the next 10 years?

Brett Thompson (24:47):
Yeah, I think that’s a massive challenge. Getting people to understand what we’re doing, being completely transparent with the process that we do and, um, and getting people to eat <laugh> our meat is gonna be what it is. And, and I, I, my draw upon experiences with, with my time at frys, we just like, we just need to get people to eat the nugget. Yeah. And then once you eat it, then you’re like, okay, I get it. You know, but if you’re like, no, no, that’s the vegan thing. Or that’s made out of chemicals or whatever it is. But as soon as people try it, and then they kind of do a bit of research, their own research or whatever it is. Um, I think that that kind of more, um, objective consumer or cautious consumer might be, um, uh, won over,

Eitan Stern (25:26):
Yeah. I listened to a podcast with the founder of beyond. And one of they, they saw this as one of their big challenges. And one of the things that he said is he needed people to not see this as a meat alternative, say he need it, a meat alternative. Yeah. So you needed wanted people just, just like you could go to the store and buy lamb meat or chicken meat, or beef meat, you should be able to buy vegetable meats as well. And so his thing was getting it into the same fridge in the shops as the, as, as, uh, cow meat and that’s, so he, it was the packaging, everything that he did was about how do I make it sit in the aisles next to

Brett Thompson (25:58):
Beef? I mean, that’s, I, I completely agree. And I think that, that analysis in terms of how you describe when, when, when we go shopping, um, you don’t go and describe the brand of the sausages that you buy. You go and say, I’m gonna go buy some pork sausages, uh, some bacon and, um, Hmm. I mean, yeah, maybe a steak, no one defined, like I’m gonna have a frys this, or beyond meat that, and I think that’s a challenge to kind of overcome cuz people then say, oh, it’s not meat because it’s, it’s got that other aspect to it. I hear. And, and I used to get so frustrated when I saw brands. Um, and we did a lot of cross merchandising when we, we were tried out, we would put Frys in the same aisle. And I think woollies has attempted that as well to varying levels of success because I don’t think the meat alternative products at the moment in South Africa just off fronting up as much as they need to. And that’s probably another discussion. I think that the terminology is also define, um, defines a lot of things. So, um, regulations is gonna come into play if they, they decide to, to regulate things differently. That might be a big challenge. And, and we’re definitely seeing that at the moment, um,

Eitan Stern (27:00):
As it currently stands is can your product hit the shelves in

Brett Thompson (27:04):
South Africa? Yeah, that’s a great question. We’re looking at it in a, in a couple of phased approach, a couple of phased approach. Um, we, you know, in South Africa, and I don’t have to educate you, but I find this maybe just in terms of, for whoever we’re listening, um, who will look, the people that look after our food or the department of health, the department of, DLRRD or department of agriculture and extra letters, and then the DTI and, uh, essentially the department of health say, it’s food, you can eat it. Department of agriculture says, this is what if it’s coming from. Um, if it’s meat, I can define it as such. And then if they don’t give you that approval, then you can’t call it meat. It’s roughly speaking. And then when you go and try and sell it at a sh on shelf at a pick and pay, um, the DTI are the ones that start talking about the labeling and what, and you know, what you can put in front and back and pack. So currently as it stands, there’s legislation because we are, we are describing ourselves as meat. We’re not describing ourselves as anything else under the current legislation. Um, within, I think it’s within the, the, um, the agriculture products act. There is draft legislation that defines meat as skeletal muscle, uh, fat and connected

Eitan Stern (28:10):
To which you would then fit into the definit. And

Brett Thompson (28:11):
We fit under that definition. There is no, whereas south African meat safety act, for example, says meat comes from the slaughtered caucus or slaughtered animal of a caucus or something along. It’s very defined to say it comes from a dead animal because it’s about, it’s actually about, um, the food safety and the way that you, uh, transport those animals. Sure. Yeah. So our interpret currently, um, with our, our legal team and the policy experts that we’re consulting with, and we’ve already spoken to government, is that we will be able to get people to eat in a food service environment in the beginning of next

Eitan Stern (28:41):
Year. Amazing. So, I mean, unless there’s some push against us, right. And I heard the story and I don’t know if this is true. I’ve heard that in America, as the beyond meat and impossible burgers, that’s hit the market, the, the meat lobby, trying to lobby for them not to be called burgers. Yeah. Is that a true

Brett Thompson (28:57):
Story? That’s a true story. That’s happening now in South Africa.

Eitan Stern (28:59):
Okay. So this say it’s gonna, there’s gonna be a pushback.

Brett Thompson (29:01):
There’s gonna be without doubt, particularly when you, I mean, um, again, we’re not selling, um, we’re, we, we, we we’re in this essentially we’re in a research and development phase. So we are just trying to get people to, um, try and get an understanding of what they think about it. Uh, but in terms of the, we’ve seen it out, I know it was the time of the recording, but yesterday, whatever the date was

Eitan Stern (29:21):
June 23rd,

Brett Thompson (29:23):
June 23rd, there was a communicator that went out from the department of agriculture or DLRRD, which essentially said you cannot for meat analogs. So not relevant in my opinion, to me, but to your beyond meats and fries, et cetera, cannot call your products. Something related to meat. So vegan nuggets sausages, except where, and it’s, it’s already been pushed back. They’ve already been like, I mean, there’s already been, this is one day later. You can imagine there’s been a lot of people saying you can’t just change something as drastically as that related to an existing industry. Yes. plant based industry, which has been doing, I mean, frys, frys has been going since 1991. Yeah. So, yeah.

Eitan Stern (29:58):
So I told you what, I think what I imagine your, your biggest challenge would be typical lawyer. I’m gonna tell you what, what I, what I think your challenge are, why don’t you tell me, what do you think your biggest challenge is over the next couple of years?

Brett Thompson (30:07):
I’ll block it out. So, you know, again, I’ll phase it arts. I think that at the current, um, our current biggest challenge is raising capital in biotech in Africa. Okay. We are faced with investors in South Africa who don’t understand what we’re doing. Mm-hmm, <affirmative>, um, they don’t understand the technology. They don’t understand the power of it. And maybe I it’s a new

Eitan Stern (30:26):
Industry. It’s a new industry. No, one’s fault. There’s less capitals exactly. Around for investment. They’re gonna stick to something FinTech or something safe. No,

Brett Thompson (30:32):
They are basically, there’s a, there’s a lot of people that call themselves VCs. Mm. They aren’t VCs, they’re people, they’re basically bankers, um, in South Africa. And, uh, yeah. So we’ve gotta work with, uh, work with overcoming that. And I think, I think it’s up to my team to try and convince that this is a really exciting ticket

Eitan Stern (30:48):
Calling them bankers might not have been the best first step. No.

Brett Thompson (30:51):
I mean like, I’ve actually, I mean, actually heard that joke, not even from, it was, it was, I was chatting to Kieno Kammies. Ah, he’s probably gonna be annoyed that I said this, but he was like, don’t, you don’t get VCs in South Africa. You get bankers without ties. Um, and <laugh> so I definitely am. I mean, I probably just lost it, but yeah. So, uh, so in terms of that, there is a south African challenge for us to raise capital and getting people to understand. Um, and in getting, you know, we don’t have this idea of south African startups that are, pre-revenue like, we are, um, there, isn’t this culture that you find in like the bay area or in Berlin where people are happy to invest in a

Eitan Stern (31:22):
Invest, cuz at some point there’s gonna be, there’s less, there’s less capital. Yeah. Yeah. So you one challenge, cool raising capital what’s after

Brett Thompson (31:28):
That and in, um, and what’s after that. So, um, I think the, the more, the scale up component, so now we get, let’s say we, we overcome this problem. And the other thing is also in international investors, blanket Africa, and aren’t that interested in certain aspects, FinTech again, different, but from other perspectives. So it’s a challenge, uh, which we’re working on in terms of the next step is scale up. It’s getting the union economic statute makes sense. The CapEx is incredibly expensive for what we’re doing. The OPEX is at the moment expensive, but we’ve already been able to reduce prices. Mm-hmm <affirmative> getting a facility that is, uh, which as I said, will look like a brewery, but in terms of the cost to produce it is, is vastly more mm-hmm <affirmative> um, you can, it it’s just right now, it doesn’t make sense. So it’s helped us as an African company to try and, uh, do a lot of that work locally, um, and produce manufacturer locally, cuz we’ve got fantastic engineers locally. Um, we’ve got really, really talented people that can get that done in the manufacturing sector. But getting that price point from, I mean, I can say it’s it’s I mean our first burger costs 20,000 round mm-hmm <affirmative> one Patty, our second one cost 2000 round. Okay. Our next one we, we are aiming at, it’ll be probably in the 1 5200, 2 50. So it’s a tenfold tenfold, tenfold.

Eitan Stern (32:38):
I mean it’s still a hell of lot down from the $250,000.

Brett Thompson (32:42):
Yeah. It’s so, so that’s scale point, but yeah, to get it, to get it to a place that only, and only then can, we can start working with customers to say them, try it

Eitan Stern (32:48):
Out. It’s a long road ahead. Yeah. Yeah. Last question. If you look at this entire industry of cultivated meat, I want you to look down 10 years or 15 years time WhenI Mzansi Meat in a big factory, you guys have raised lots of money in, in the market. What does this industry look like? What does the, the landscape of eating meat look like in 10, 15 years time? And I’d quite like to know your ideal situation and your idealistic situation and then maybe more the, the, the practical, you know, so I’d like to measure again like what you think it could be and, and what you think it will be.

Brett Thompson (33:20):
I don’t think people are gonna stop eating meat. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, I think there’s a lot of, a lot of people within my industry and, and, and the people that I’ve spent time with over the last 15 years is that we’re gonna have this time of the end of meat. So I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I think if you look in 10, 20 years time, if we do our job and are able to make meat, uh, where a customer or consumer gets given an option and a choice, because I don’t think they have enough choices at the moment where you can consume something or taste something. That’s exactly the same as what you used to, but it’s at a price point that’s potentially lower. It potentially healthier from you and from my driver is that no animal had to be harmed. I genuinely think once people are given those options, people start making the right better decisions maybe for,

Eitan Stern (34:09):
But I mean, is there a chance that debt, you could flip this around? In fact, we, we, we spoke to, uh, an energy expert the other day and we’re speaking about electric vehicles. He said, electric vehicles. There’s not consumers asking for them. Regulations are forcing them in 20 years. In 10 years time, you’re not gonna be able to buy combustible engine cars in certain countries. And companies are also realizing that there’s a, that there’s a, a cost benefit to making these things. So, so do you think it could be the same in this industry that that industry will push it or will be cheaper for a farmer to say, well, listen, I’m gonna start growing my meat instead of raising cattle. And do you think legislation will get to a point of starting to push this because of global warming or efficiency or whatever it

Brett Thompson (34:48):
Is? So I think in, in the long run, what does Kane say? We’re no, I don’t, we’re all dead, but I think in the long run, yes. Um, but I think in the sort of immediate term, um, we’re a commodity item, which is different, uh, to something like, uh, a vehicle or, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of differences in terms of, and a way that you can apply legislation, I think, to change people’s behavior. Um, and I think that means that we’ve actually got a slightly easier job because, um, if you are able to get that scale and get the union economics rights, then people will just make that, that shift naturally. I think, I mean the regulations and, and waiting on the industry, the incumbent industry to change I’m I’m wavering are used to think a lot more, but we’re seeing very much from the local, I’d say food companies, that’s just not in there.

Brett Thompson (35:31):
They just don’t see it yet. Um, and maybe it’s, if we’re being a bit premature, cuz internationally that is happening where food companies, big Nestle I’m talking JBS, which is a massive meat company are investing heavily in plant based heavily in cultivated meats. And we’ve seen it locally. So we’ve seen RCL, which is a rainbow chicken limited South Africa’s largest food company invest in well in frys. I mean they they’ve got, so it is very possible that these big players will see that it’s a profit driven thing. Maybe not maybe from an environmental or health or animal reasons, but they will move because they see profit opportunities and future proofing their business. Do regulators come on board and then change things? I think. Yes. But I, I, again, maybe my more leanings to Austrian economics means that I’m, I’m, I’m thinking the market’s gonna be quicker than, than the pen of a regulator.

Brett Thompson (36:16):
Okay. But, um, yeah, I’m, I’m I’m open, but I, I’m also very cynical sometimes in saying that it’s gonna be an overnight and people are just gonna switch. I don’t think it’s gonna be like that. It’s gonna be difficult. It’s gonna be incremental. I hope I’m wrong. But I think it’s gonna be plant based is gonna occupy part of the hybrid plant based and meat based products gonna occupy. Maybe there’ll be resurgence in whole foods. I don’t think there’s gonna be a clear answer, but I just don’t think people are gonna stop eating meat. And I want cultivated meat to be able to find that choice and we’ll find that solution.

Eitan Stern (36:47):
I love it. I love the pragmatism of it. Keep doing the good work that you’re doing say. So if people wanna find you

Brett Thompson (36:53):
Find me, um, in Woodstock, no, uh, <laugh>, Mzansi Meat co you can find us on Twitter and LinkedIn check our website out if you Google us. Um, yeah. That’s where you can. Uh,

Eitan Stern (37:03):
And if they want to squash game that can find you in camps bay.

Brett Thompson (37:06):
Oh, camps, bay. That’s you know, I need, I need a partner, so please. Yeah. If anyone wants to hit some balls, let me know.

Eitan Stern (37:11):
Thanks for joining us, Brett, just this podcast is recorded by Simon Atwell. The intro music is by pH fat. I’m your host Eitan stern for more information about legalese, catch us legalese.co.za Or on the socials.

 

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