Food, agriculture, and land use are collectively responsible for 20.1% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with agriculture and land use activities being the largest contributors. The combination of population increase, urbanisation, and environmental degradation aggravates this situation; resulting in a climate challenge connected to the world’s global food industry.
In response to this challenge, we have already seen plant-based meat and dairy alternatives. The next generation of solutions is expected to focus on more sustainable way of producing food like lab-grown meat and insect proteins and reduction of food loss and waste and more sustainable packaging solutions.
We caught up with Nicolas Morin-Forest, CEO & Co-founder of Gourmey, a Paris-based cultivated meat company, producing meat grown in laboratories from animal cells. Nicolas spoke to us about his experience as a founder and Gourmey’s journey to take on the challenge of food sustainability through cell-based meat.
What first got you into entrepreneurship? Walk us through your story of co-founding Gourmey.
We co-founded Gourmey in April 2019 with Victor, a molecular biologist, and Antoine, a stem cell biologist. Our main driver is to contribute to building a better food system through innovation and biology, to empower everyone to eat more sustainably without any compromise on taste.
Do you have any advice for first-time founders?
The most important advice is to work on a project that deeply matters to you because you will be spending most of your time and energy on it. With a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Having a profound sense of purpose will help you to be extremely resilient. Implement the highest hiring standards early on and stick to them as the company grows. Surround yourself with people who are passionate and here for the long run.
What has been one of your biggest failures, and what did you learn from the experience?
When you are a first-time founder and search for funding for the first time, you can sometimes have trouble identifying who is really serious about potentially investing in your venture. You may end up talking to too many people and spending a lot of time away from what truly matters – building your business. One of the most important things I have learned is to be extremely mindful of how you spend your time as early as possible.
You made a splash with your flagship offering of lab-grown foie gras. Why did you choose foie gras as your first offering?
Foie gras is one of the most iconic French dishes. Yet chefs shrink away from the foie gras story because it is a controversial one. Regardless of your stance on the morality of foie gras, a growing number of lawmakers are banning it. Foie gras production is already banned in seventeen countries, and consumption is even illegal in a few places, including India and California. In 2022, New York City’s foie gras ban will go into effect, removing foie gras from shelves and menus in the biggest market in the United States.
Foie gras is embedded in a rich culinary and cultural history. Its ability to introduce cultured meat through French food will accelerate its acceptance and pave the way for other cultured products – because we have plenty of other exciting culinary innovations in the pipeline.
What exactly is cell-based meat and how does it differ from other lab-grown meat alternatives?
Global meat consumption is booming. If we keep producing conventional meat the way we do today, there will simply be not enough resources on Earth to satisfy the rising demand for animal protein. On top of that, a rising meat lovers’ market segment is uncomfortable with conventional meat consumption impacts, whether on the environment, on animals, due to the use of antibiotics.
Cultivated meat is one of the most promising solutions to keep only what is great about meat: the flavour and the nutrition, without the negative outcomes.
Cellular agriculture is the process of producing animal-based foods and other products directly from animal cells. Cellular agriculture offers a wide range of products from cultivated meat, poultry, fish, seafood, animal-based products, to even non-food products such as leather. It is ‘real’ meat, unlike plant-based foods.
What differentiates Gourmey from its competitors?
We are the only ones able to replicate the most refined meat experiences. We fuse culinary arts and cutting-edge life sciences to create the most delightful, cultivated meats. We have demonstrated this know-how on foie gras, an extremely sophisticated and complex meat, with a unique buttery, compact texture, and very rich and delicate notes. On the technology side, we are building a unique and cost-effective production platform, so our products are not only sustainable and delicious but also price competitive.
What is your long-term vision for Gourmey?
We believe in a world where spectacle and succulence share the table with sustainability and a positive impact. So we’re reimagining meat to spare land and resources, but never flavour.
What do you think is the biggest challenge in food production that still needs to be solved? Do you have any ideas on how to go about solving it?
One of the biggest challenges is the one we are trying to solve: the rising appetite for protein, which is a consequence of the rising global population. There are many different approaches to solving this problem. A reduction in meat consumption, plant-based meat alternatives, cultivated meat alternatives. All of these solutions are complementary. Our conviction is that there is no silver bullet but that our generation will need a huge dose of innovation and creativity.
What tips do you have for building a solid team?
A company is a living organism and strong communication hygiene is a must-have. It’s easy to avoid difficult conversations but it allows small frustrations to accumulate. A culture of direct and transparent communication requires effort but it’s the only viable foundation for trust. And when a passionate team has trust in each other and are aligned in view of a common goal, magic happens.
How do you encourage diversity in your team?
Diversity is key to healthy company culture. It’s particularly true for highly innovative companies that cannot follow existing paths and have to build their own. Innovation happens at the crossroads of many different cultural backgrounds, mindsets, and expertise. Our team members come from 12 different countries and bring together around 20+ different expertise or disciplines, from cellular or molecular biology to bioprocess engineering or food engineering. In addition, we are proud to have a scientist team that is over 60% female.