A pet-food company wants to make cell-cultured meats for dogs and cats

A whole new level of pet food.
A whole new level of pet food.
Image: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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It’s an idea that would take Fancy Feast to a whole new level. If a new Colorado-based company gets it way, pets across America will have access to the same high-tech, cell-cultured meats as humans.

It’s an idea being pushed by Rich Kelleman, a former advertising executive, who decided to launch Bond Pets after he and his wife struggled to find a pet brand that was healthy and transparent about its ingredients. Pet food can be filled with all sorts of stuff humans might rather not think about—things such as undeveloped eggs, chicken necks, animal bones and hair, even manure. Products labeled as “natural,” “gluten-free,” and “organic,” are plentiful, but can be just as difficult to navigate, despite a much higher price point.

“The sourcing of meat proteins is opaque,” Kelleman says. “When we found boutique options that were out there, the science was suspect.”

Food science for your pets

So Kelleman is building an executive team to begin a new kind of pet-food company, one leaning in hard to some of the most cutting-edge food science happening today. Just as a handful of companies—including Hampton Creek and Memphis Meats—are racing to develop cell-cultured meats for humans, Kelleman wants to do the same thing for dogs and cats. These are meats such as chicken, pork, and beef, grown in bioreactors from a handful of cells without the need to slaughter an animal.

“I thought…it was a bit like science fiction, something that would be cool for the future,” Kelleman says. “I didn’t think it would have practical application now.”

But these futuristic meat products are expected to become a reality as early as next year. Hampton Creek has said it plans to introduce its first cell-cultured meat product to market in 2018, though it has not publicly said what that product will be or when it will become available.

“Pet food has always been quick follower to the human food trends,” says pet-food industry consultant Ryan Yamka, who is working with Bond Pets. “So it’s not surprising that you see…what I would call the sustainable- food movement getting into the pet-food side.”

Human beliefs envisioned for animal good

People are willing to take their beliefs and overlay them onto their pets. This is why you see pet foods marketed as “plant-based,” “rich in antioxidants,” and “organic.” If Bond Pets can offer a new type of meaty food that never involves slaughter and is advertised as having a smaller environmental footprint, a market likely exists. And since production of cell-cultured meat happens in tightly controlled bioreactors, Kelleman it can be tailored for specific species and breeds of animals.

“I think the other benefit to approaching it and making food in this way…is that we can also potentially mitigate a lot of the safety issues that plague the industry right now,” he says. “When you look at the tremendous number of recalls through the years, certainly a lot of meat proteins are the culprits of a lot of food safety issues.”

The future is not quite within reach

It’s the ultimate boutique pet food. While food tech companies such as Hampton Creek are working to create meat products that can compete by price point with conventional meat, Kelleman says using the technology to create a premium pet food is the goal.

Don’t expect to see futuristic pet food right away. Bond Pets is still in its early stages. Yet once companies figure out how to scale up the production of lab-grown, cell-cultured meats, it will only be a matter of time before the pet-food industry perks up.

“It wouldn’t be unheard of to see it in the market in a couple years,” Yamka says. “If you walked down the aisles this year at the trade shows, you already see people talking about humanely raised and sustainable [pet food].”