Our Response to Recent Press | UPDATED 1/6/24
January 6, 2024
On December 21, we published our blog entitled “Our Response to Recent Press”, which provides UPSIDE’s perspective and response on recent press that has been critical of UPSIDE and our path to scale. On January 4, Bloomberg Businessweek published a Letter to the Editor from our CEO and Founder, Dr. Uma Valeti. Full text of the published letter is below for reference, followed by our original blog post.
Upside Foods Responds to Story About Lab-Grown Chicken
To the Editor:
Your December 14 article “The Biggest Problem With Lab-Grown Chicken Is Growing the Chicken” about the cultivated meat industry got it wrong on a number of fundamental points, and we strongly disagree with its erroneous conclusion that UPSIDE Foods does not have a path to scale its product. We have a scalable technology (something we call “suspension”) and have consistently and successfully run large cultivators at our EPIC pilot facility, developed a suite of delicious next generation cultivated meat products leveraging this platform, and are building a commercial facility to enable the next level of scale.
Bloomberg’s story failed to examine where we are today as a company and where we are heading, focusing instead on a dated snapshot of where we have been. Unfortunately, key facts that were provided about UPSIDE’s business were inexplicably and intentionally omitted, leaving the reader with an incomplete and inaccurate understanding of our current business. Writing mischaracterized stories like these jeopardize funding and partnerships for us and others in the industry.
UPSIDE is proud to have established a high-watermark with our whole-textured chicken product that’s being served today. This was the first cultivated meat product to receive US FDA approval and the first cultivated meat available for sale to American consumers and has set the bar high for what is possible with cultivated meat.
At the same time, we’ve been investing significantly in our suspension technology, which will be the first that we will scale to commercial levels and will enable delicious, blended products for broader consumption. We are regularly operating at the 2,000 liter scale with our suspension processes and are working with the FDA on its safety analysis of this process (our tissue-based process received the FDA green light in November 2022). And we are building a commercial manufacturing facility to produce an initial capacity of millions of pounds of cultivated meat and the potential to expand up to 30 million pounds.
All of these developments are built on the foundation of our scalable suspension processes, information that did not make it into the article.
UPSIDE is addressing a problem that is fundamental to our existence and the future of our planet: how do we continue to feed a growing human population without ruining the earth in the process? This is an ambitious problem to tackle. It requires persistence and a long-term view of innovation. And while there have been challenges along the way, we have made major progress on both of our two production modalities – whole-textured “tissue” and our “suspension” production methods.
We believe strongly in our mission and will continue to be pioneers addressing the challenge of sustainably feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental impact. We remain steadfast in our goal of bringing delicious and safe cultivated meat to consumers.
Uma Valeti, M.D.
CEO & Founder
Below is our original blog that was posted on December 21.
At UPSIDE, we are committed to tackling a fundamental challenge: how to sustainably feed a growing global population without causing harm to the planet and animals. We’ve made exciting progress, including laying an important foundation to scale our technology. As any trailblazer in a nascent industry knows, innovation does not happen in a straight line and we understand people will continue to be curious about our progress as we advance our mission. We’re incredibly excited about what’s ahead for UPSIDE, despite what some recent news articles have suggested, which we want to address.
For context, a recent Bloomberg Businessweek story about our industry, which featured UPSIDE, contained inaccurate and misleading claims about our business and fundamentally misrepresents UPSIDE’s technology and strategy. This occurred despite our team’s extensive efforts to educate Bloomberg’s reporters over many months, and despite outreach to their editors, general counsel, and standards editor to express our concerns regarding the investigative and reporting process. They have refused to fairly reflect UPSIDE’s progress in the story, and the article reads more like an opinion piece.
The most glaring omission from the article is the tremendous progress we have made towards commercial scale, including the critical role of large-scale “suspension” products in our strategy. The article concludes that the industry, and UPSIDE specifically, does not have a path to scale its product and has “little to show for itself.” This is inaccurate and is a dated snapshot of our progress from several years ago. Bloomberg ignored our repeated requests (and blog post) stating that our tissue product is not slated for scaling near-term and that we are instead focused on first commercializing our suspension product, which produces delicious blended cultivated meat products. This suspension product was the basis for our Series C fundraise, has been proven out through dozens of successful runs in our 2kL cultivators at EPIC, and is the design basis for our commercial scale processes. We told Bloomberg we produced enough cells in a single cultivator in the last month to produce the equivalent of over 2,000 pounds of delicious finished chicken products. They did not print that and instead focused on the small quantities of the chicken we currently have on the market (our “tissue” product). Below is a full statement we provided about the importance of large scale suspension chicken. They deleted our statement about suspension chicken and our ability to scale, but published the rest of it. We provide that statement in full here (Bloomberg removed the parts in bold):
“UPSIDE has successfully and repeatedly demonstrated that we can scale our suspension technology to make delicious ground-textured and blended products. This platform is the basis for the commercial plant we are currently building, and will enable large scale production pending regulatory approval. UPSIDE is proud to have established a high-watermark with our whole textured chicken product that’s being served today. We will continue to be pioneers addressing the challenge of sustainably feeding a growing global population while minimizing environmental impact, and remain steadfast in our goal of bringing delicious and safe cultivated meat to consumers. While we know there will be many challenges ahead, UPSIDE chooses to work with optimism, grit and dogged determination towards our vision for a better future, buoyed by the progress we’ve already made and the urgency of the work ahead.”
The article also tries to denigrate our technology and the science behind it, and tries to draw conclusions about the safety of our product. It gets both wrong. Our cultivated chicken (made from our small scale tissue process) and our next generation of delicious suspension products have been positively received by external parties. (The Washington Post described it as “the most chicken-y chicken I’ve tasted in a long time”; Eater lauded that “the taste evoked the kind of nostalgic, delicate meatiness proper chicken should provide”; and one of the Bloomberg writers tasted our product in December 2022 and remarked that it tasted like chicken). Our products are safe, and have been reviewed by the FDA. The cholesterol is within the range found in commonly consumed foods. Our lead levels are similar to spinach and grape juice. We have made additional progress lowering lead levels since the time of the FDA approval of our product. We have also made significant progress on our next-generation tissue cultivators, even though they will not be our initial focus for commercialization.
Finally, the article relies heavily on discussions with anonymous sources and a single named former employee that worked for UPSIDE for 71 days in 2021 on a special project segregated from the rest of the company, and whose responsibilities and expertise did not include any of the areas that he is quoted on in the story. Additionally, we’ve heard from multiple experts quoted in the article that they have lodged complaints to Bloomberg because they were misquoted or have had their quotes taken out of context.
Looking forward, we will not be slowed down by those who want to stall this industry. Our goal is not just to build a business, but to be an industry-defining brand and a significant force innovating for a sustainable future. Our ambition is bigger than a niche business or quick profits. We aim to mirror the impact of other transformative companies whose groundbreaking, unconventional ideas have become foundational. We see parallels for cultivated meat.
While we have never guaranteed success, our investors and supporters recognize that the pursuit of change of this magnitude requires a team that refuses to accept the status quo and is willing to take the hard path of tackling the challenges directly. And that’s exactly what we’re doing. You can find more details about what’s next for us on our blog.