Matt Gibson of New Culture on the Future Food Show

Matt grew up in New Zealand. He studied microbiology and genetics at the University of Auckland before co-founding New Culture, a venture-backed cell ag startup based in the Bay Area that is making cow cheese without the cow.

This episode is sponsored by the Black & Veatch NextGen Ag Team. Learn more about Black and Veatch at www.bv.com.

Listen to this episode on your favorite streaming service.

Alex Shirazi: (00:04)

Thanks for joining us on the cultured meat and future food show. This episode is sponsored by the Black & Veatch Next Gen Ag Team. Learn more about Black & Veatch at www.bv.com. We’re excited to have Matt Gibson of new culture. On this episode, Matt grew up in New Zealand where he studied microbiology and genetics at the University of Auckland before co-founding new culture, a venture backed cell ag startup based in the bay area. That’s making cow cheese without the cow. I learned a lot on this episode and it was a pleasure catching up with Matt. Let’s jump right in. Matt! I’d like to welcome you to the future food show.

Matt Gibson: (00:42)

Thanks Alex, for having me.

Alex Shirazi: (00:45)

Matt, tell us a little bit about your background and how new culture it came to be.

Matt Gibson: (00:49)

It’s actually a pretty long story. So I was trying to cut it down. I’m originally from New Zealand, which you can probably tell by the accent. And I studied science at university very quickly realized I didn’t really have the disposition for doing lab work, even though I love science overall, I was pretty lazy student. And so they actually spurred me to launch this website where students could rate and review courses. And that was specifically for me to find easier electives to take outside of my core science courses. And as it turns out that got pretty popular. So when I graduated with my BAC, I had the choice of either furthering my science or jumping into this website full-time and I chose the latter. And that was my first real entrepreneurial experience and really infected me with this passion for entrepreneurship. And so this was all happening.

Matt Gibson: (01:41)

And at the same time, I started hearing about this crazy idea called lab grown meat, which was brought into the mainstream by Mac post-lab. And this was like an absolute revelation to me. It was clear that this was the only way to transition the world to eat more sustainably by not changing the actual product, but the source material. And so I was working on this website and then I started asking everyone what’s been done in New Zealand, as it relates to lab grown meat, as it was called back then, because I just desperately wants to be involved. They blended these three passions I now had, which is like science, entrepreneurship, and animal rights. And as it turns out, back in 2015 and New Zealand, the tiny little country at the bottom of the world, there was no one working on it. And I was emailing professors. I was emailing everyone.

Matt Gibson: (02:25)

I could just hit nothing back. And people that they replied back said, don’t know anyone doing it here in New Zealand. So I really resigned myself to just cheering from the sidelines. I remember contacting Memphis meats and signed up to one of their army of supporters. And so I was doing things like that. And then fast forward a few years. And I’m part of this blockchain startup, which is a whole nother story, but I was always keeping an ultra close eye on the space, which was now called cellular agriculture. And I actually began to notice something quite striking. And that was that almost all venture capital and startups were focused on meats. There’s only really working on selling the agriculture for dairy, except one company, which was perfect day. And this was very puzzling to me because one thing about New Zealand is that we make a lot of milk and we make a lot of dairy products.

Matt Gibson: (03:15)

That’s our biggest export and our economy is essentially reliant on it. And by having an economy reliant on dairy and making a lot of dairy, you bear witness to the impacts of it has on the environment New Zealand’s got this very clean green image, but in fact, half, our rivers and lakes are actually unswimmable because of the effluent runoff because the dairy family. So I knew there had to be much more work put into thinking about how we can make dairy more sustainable, how we can remove our reliance on animals for dairy products. And at this stage, I knew how to start and run a company. I knew the science and I knew the space really well. And 2017, 2018, I just said, I’m just going to do it. That was really what drove me to start new culture. And when I did decide to start a new culture, I knew I had to achieve two key things to make it a successful company.

Matt Gibson: (04:07)

One was to find an amazing co-founder and the other one was to get into indie bio and indie bio, even back then had this amazing reputation companies like Memphis meats, Clara foods, gel tour that had all gone through indie bio. And I just knew that was the place to be. Those are places to really build the foundation of new culture, but before I could do that, I had to find a fantastic co-founder. And I actually remember contacting binge Benjaminia from higher steaks. There was a slack channel that the GFI started for people interested in the space wanting to start a company. And she goes on there and I messaged her. I said, Hey, how do I find a really great scientific co-founder? I knew the science, but I didn’t know enough to lead the science. And she said, essentially, just be a recruiter, go on LinkedIn, just recruit people, interview people, reference people and essentially be a recruiter.

Matt Gibson: (04:54)

And so that’s exactly what I did. I bought LinkedIn premium after work, I would spend hours just finding people with the right backgrounds, the right expertise, contacting them, pitching them, interviewing them for those very few that responded back and do this for a long time, until I eventually found my co-founder of new culture, which is Inja. And she turned out to be one of the greatest co-founders anyone could ask for. So was super, super lucky to find her she did her PhD in synthetic biology at Cambridge university. She’s also a data consultant. So she’s just incredibly gifted and has been able to move new culture very quickly since then. So we came together in late 2018. We knew we wanted to do something with dairy. We put our heads together for a few months thinking about how we can best pitch new culture to indie bio, and we decided cheese should be the focus because dairy cheese is incredibly unsustainable has the third worst animal food product for greenhouse gas emissions, for example.

Matt Gibson: (05:49)

And what makes dairy cheese even worse is that there’s no real viable alternatives. If you’ve ever tried plant based cheese, you know what I’m talking about? It’s not anywhere near the point. It has to be to switch any mainstream dairy consumer over to a more sustainable cheese. And that’s a huge problem because just how unsustainable dairy cheese is and long story short, we quickly discovered why plant based cheese has don’t work is because they don’t contain dairy proteins, which give dairy cheese, all its core properties. And there was a very bullish technology that was developing for food called precision fermentation, allowing you to make target animal proteins without the animal. Our pitch to indie bio was, Hey, look, we’re going to use precision fermentation to make our dairy proteins. We’re going to use plant-based fats and plant-based sugars. And they’re going to use this base to make delicious cheese. And we took this idea to indie bio, and we’re very fortunate to get in and this really how new culture came to be.

Alex Shirazi: (06:45)

Wow, that’s definitely a lot to unpack there and really a great origin story, especially going back to that website that you started. I think it shows that you are carrying that entrepreneurial drive through and through it, which is exciting. So is there a chance that you guys might not have chosen cheese? Cause I know you and your co-founder were interested in some sort of cellular agriculture technology. I know you ended up on cheese, but it could have been something else. Is that right?

Matt Gibson: (07:08)

Absolutely. We hadn’t decided on cheese. When we first got together and June from indie bio who’s the CSO at bio she actually helped us a lot because when I had the idea for new culture and decided to really go for it in 2018 and it was just me, I was emailing June, like probably too much, like once every few months, Hey, June, like my name’s Matt, I’m from New Zealand, I’m going to be working on this. And yeah, every third or fourth, she would reply with some suggestions. And she really got me thinking about problem of cheese. And so she was really instrumental actually to helping in your, and I really focused and understand why cheese should be that first part that we target, why cheese is such a problem and how cellular agriculture can be the solution that solves that problem.

Alex Shirazi: (07:50)

Wow that’s great. Yeah. And June is great and pre pandemic. There was always these great meetups at the indie bio office. So I’m really excited to get back to those.

Matt Gibson: (07:59)

Likewise, likewise, hopefully soon.

Alex Shirazi: (08:02)

So going through indie bio, you had this great experience, but I want to ask you how far have you come since demo day and your team presented? How has the result of demo day? And I remember you had a proof of concept, like a sample or example, and the goal is to get this really stretchy nice at the time it was mozzarella cheese product. Is that still one of the main focuses?

Matt Gibson: (08:23)

Yeah, absolutely. We had a demo day. When was that? That was June or July of 2019. And overall indie bio was just a fantastic experience. I know what they do, what they’re putting in the water or in the year you’ve been at indie bio right? So effectively a basement and an alleyway and the heart of San Francisco, but they make amazing things happen. So we really accomplished a lot in those four months and you’re right on demo day, we had a proof of concept cheese that we served to people. And we were fortunate enough to already be well underway with our seed rounds by the, we got to demo day. So for us, the catcher team, there was really like a closing events where we were bringing on the last few investors that filled the syndicate. And you’re exactly right where our focus early on and still today is to make that pasta for latte mozzarella cheese.

Matt Gibson: (09:09)

That’s the most consumed cheese in the U S that’s the cheese that everyone wants an animal free version of that actually works. They’re not just a starch and coconut oil substitute that doesn’t really melt and doesn’t really stretch at all. And the key to making that happen as I alluded to is to have dairy proteins in your cheese, specifically casein proteins, which are the proteins that give cheese it’s functionality, especially mozzarella cheese. And so at indie bio, we validated that we could produce these casein proteins with microbes, but like any synthetic biology platform, it takes a long time to bring it together, to optimize it, to scale it up, to produce any sort of protein and amounts that are more than milligrams. You know, indie bio, we’re literally making milligrams of protein now, fortunately since then, and especially last year, we’ve been able to move incredibly quickly and that’s really a testament.

Matt Gibson: (10:02)

to the team, I’m pretty privileged to be surrounded by amazing scientists and the speed that we moved at last year, given the pandemic was just astounding to see. And so if you think about two core areas that we work on, one is the ability to produce casein proteins in high amounts, right? And this realm of precision fermentation, a key cost driver as your ability to produce a lot of your target protein, which is a measurement called Tyson effectively saying, here’s how much of my target protein I can produce per sugar consumed or per volume of fermentation tank that I’m occupying. And we’ve been able to really drive that up massively allowing us to bring costs down, but also to produce a lot of casein protein in-house that we can actually work with our food scientists team can turn it into cheese. We can measure functionality, we can taste it, we can put it on a pizza, put it in a pizza oven, see how it bakes at various temperatures.

Matt Gibson: (10:58)

So we’re doing that as we speak and we’re making quite a lot of cheese and the second key area within not just being able to produce a lot of casein protein, but you’ve got to be able to understand and replicate the biochemistry, how that casein protein comes together to form the base of cheese. And this is really we’re talking about the biochemistry of milk casein proteins aren’t found by themselves. They’re found in these, I won’t get into too much technical detail, but they’re, and these particles, these cool little particles called Casein micelles, and for us to make a beautiful cheese for us to go through that traditional cheese making process, we really need to replicate or be able to hone in on the ability to make casein proteins and then turn them into these casein micelles and how they’re naturally found in milk. And we put a lot of work into that and really mastered that we’ve made all sorts of casein micelles that are nice, like long story short, the cheese that you tried, what was it now that one and a half years ago was a proof of concept made with dairy proteins, purified from cows milk.

Matt Gibson: (11:54)

The cheese that we’re making today is with dairy proteins. We’re making with microbes. And hopefully in the coming months, you’ll be able to see a lot more of it as we release videos and photos publicly. But it’s just been a super exciting last 12 months for us. And we even bought a professional pizza oven, really testing our cheese and like very high temperature settings. So it’s been a really exciting and pretty delicious last few months for us,

Alex Shirazi: (12:17)

If you need any lab assistance, let me know. That sounds awesome. That’s so cool. And that’s what I was going to ask. I was going to say, when people think about mozzarella, they think about pizza. And so having that pizza oven, I think it just makes it like such a cool lab experience to think about. To imagine,

Matt Gibson: (12:33)

Yeah, as it turns out, I was pretty ignorant as it relates to pizza. And maybe it’s because I’m from New Zealand, we’re not really renowned for our sort of our food in a way, but there’s just tremendous amounts of different types of pizza, all cooked at different temperatures. Pizza not just this, you know, when we think about pizza, it’s not just putting something on a dough and with some tomato sauce and putting it in the oven. There’s a million ways to go around it and your cheese has to be functional and be able to behave correctly in each setting. And so it’s actually quite a fascinating and difficult thing to do to be able to optimize our cheese for all these different types of scenarios where it could be baked.

Alex Shirazi: (13:08)

So you mentioned precision fermentation and we’ve been hearing a lot about fermentation in the alternative protein space in general, are you using this technology now and regardless, would you be able to give us just a very high-level overview of where fermentation can be used when it comes to new culture?

Matt Gibson: (13:27)

Yeah, totally. We using precision fermentation. Now we have our own in-house bio-reactors that we grow our microbes in. And if you think about it, fermentation for cheese has been used for thousands of years, right? Turning milk into cheese, especially for more mature and aged cheeses. You ferment the milk and fermentation is essentially just utilizing a microbe to break down molecules and produce a desired byproducts. So we really use it twice. The first time we use it as, without engineered microbes and we use fermentation to, to grow them in this soup of carbon and nitrogen. And they produce our desired byproduct and their by-product is our target protein, our casein dairy protein. We recover that protein. We add our plant-based fats, plant-based sugars. And then we go through fermentation again, effectively to turn this milk, like solution into our desired cheese. That’s what we’re doing. The important part, I guess, or the part that’s the bottleneck and the big constraint to progress bring costs down. Getting volumes up is the first fermentation, the precision fermentation, because you have to be able to produce a lot of your target protein to have any sort of impact that we want to have on global food sustainability. And so that requires you to produce your target protein via fermentation and larger vessels. And this is when everyone looks into cellular agriculture, everyone quickly understands that the key constraint is scale. And that scale is to do with driving down costs and driving out volumes with precision fermentation,

Alex Shirazi: (14:59)

As a question to a followup, and we discussed perfect day earlier. Their process is totally different. Right?

Matt Gibson: (15:06)

I’m not sure. I can’t comment. I know we’re both making dairy proteins. If first targets, uh, the whey proteins in cow’s milk, or in most mammalian milk, you have two protein fractions, you have whey protein and you have casein protein, casein protein is used more for cheesemaking and that’s what we’re targeting. And perfect day are targeting whey protein. And then they’re making the ice cream and probably a bunch of other products with that. So fundamentally both processes are fermentation, but the optimizations and the unit ops needed to produce whey versus casein. They’re very different. Although we’re both utilizing precision fermentation my guess, cause I don’t know, I haven’t been inside their manufacturing facility is that by targeting whey versus casein you have to go through a different process and how you go through the downstream processing, how you product development and things such as that,

Alex Shirazi: (15:53)

Generally speaking, when we are talking about the technology that new culture is using, when we compare it to what we see in the cultured meat industry with scaling up tissue culture, would you say that scaling up what we’re doing here with new culture, because it’s a different technology, a technology that’s been applied to other industries that have scaled, would you say that this is a technology that can scale a lot faster than for example, what we’re seeing in the cultured meat world?

Matt Gibson: (16:21)

Yes, I think for the most part that’s correct. And we’ve seen evidence of that with my perfect day again, who at least the ice cream and they just go at it pretty quick. And the grand scheme of things with microbial fermentation or precision fermentation, as it’s now called, there is a blueprint that’s been set. This is, as you mentioned, this has been used for food for the last 30 or 40 years. So there is a roadmap to scale. The key difference between what companies like ourselves perfect day and other companies in the space are doing versus what happens decades ago. And even still today is that the target molecules or proteins that we’re making with precision fermentation are going to be a lot more used in our product. And what I mean by that is when we think about cheese, anywhere between 10 to 30% of cheese is protein.

Matt Gibson: (17:11)

That means that when we use precision fermentation to make our protein, 10 to 30% of our final product is going to contain the output of that precision fermentation. And if precision fermentation is incredibly expensive to start off with, that’s going to mean our cheap products can be incredibly expensive, which means that you have to drive down costs even more. If you think about what was used previously for other small molecules preservatives, for example, they only represent maybe 0.1% or 0.5% of the composition of the final products mean that although it may be very expensive to produce as only a small fraction has gone into each product, it’s not really going to impact the price of the product that much. Whereas for as it’s 10 to 20% or even 30%, we really have to drive down costs that much more to keep the overall cost of our products low. If that all makes sense.

Alex Shirazi: (17:58)

Excellent. What is really the next stage of growth for the company as you continue to develop the technology, what will the process of scale look like for your team and perhaps your facility,

Matt Gibson: (18:08)

We are in the process of scaling our company. It’s gonna be a pretty exciting year this year. As you look to close additional funding with that, we are going to be scaling our team. We are going to be scaling fermentation. You have three scales, essentially pilot scale, which is hundreds of liters, demonstration scales about tens of thousands of liters and commercial scales, hundreds of thousands of liters. And we want to get to demonstration scout tens of thousands of liters by next year. And at the same time, we do want to start on the filing for grass, for getting our protein in our product, ready for markets. And obviously with all of this comes increasing the size of the team, sort of we’re a team of just over 10 now, and we’re going to look to grow that to actually over 30 in the next six to 12 months. So we are going to be going through a pretty big expansion in all areas. And that’s really for us to scale our technology. When I think about the next stage of company for new culture or the next stage of growth, we’re really building that bridge to commercialization we’ve built the platform. Now let’s cross it to commercialize and that’s what we’re doing.

Alex Shirazi: (19:12)

That’s definitely an exciting time and stage to be in for the startup. What kind of changes have you seen in the food technology industry in general? And I really ask this because being in the bay area or in these food circles, we do really feel like there’s a shift towards alternative proteins. Is it the bubble? Is it the food tech bubble or do you think that this is a wave that’s actually taking place? Not just nationally but globally.

Matt Gibson: (19:40)

I really do think it’s taking place globally. Obviously specific regions and territories are doing it quicker, but it is happening in most places. And I think it’s important to understand why it’s really understanding who’s holding the purchasing power today, 10, 20 years ago, it was the baby boomers. And now it’s the millennials. And what we’re seeing globally is that millennials like you and me wants more than just a tasty and cost-effective products. People are wanting other things. They want sustainability. They want nutritional and health benefits to the products that they’re consuming. People, increasingly people are wanting animal free products. And this is a pretty significant trends that we already seen globally in industry such as fluid milk, where you have these plant-based milk, like almond milk and soy milk, taking larger and larger shares of the market, even at a cost that is on average 2x, that of fluid dairy milk.

Matt Gibson: (20:38)

So we’re seeing this global shift in behavior due to a demographic change of who the largest consumers of food are. And for us, I think that is cheese, the biggest buyers of cheese and now millennials, and there’s just this big demand, this big expectation for just something more, something more than what you can currently get in the store and companies are reacting to that. And I think this trend will continue. I think there’s a lot of kinks to work out on the system, as it comes to supply chains from the plant based and being able to supply enough plant based protein to meet increasing demands. A lot of that protein actually goes to animal farming. Where it’s going to start to have to be directed more to actually producing food products. And I think once companies like ourselves and especially companies on the meat side start scaling and getting that cost down where they can get to market, we’ll see this trend accelerate because people will suddenly have additional options other than, just eat a plant or animal derived foods they’ll have this third option. Cellular agriculture, which kind of is the best of both worlds. You get all the tastes, textures, aromas that you want from animal derived food, but you also get all the health and the sustainability. And I love the clean label of plant-based foods. And so I can only see this, this shift increasing and accelerating. And I think we’ll start seeing governments who shift to this as well. You know, if you think about how much help and research as dairy gets in the US, they get a huge amount of help in New Zealand. That’s going to start to change because governments can be aware that, Hey, look, I can’t keep propping up this house of cards in a way which is causing damage to the environment. Financially the demand is decreasing and the US is buying millions of pounds of cheese to keep the price stable. And eventually they just got to say, look, guys, this is a dying industry and we need to get with the times we need to do this for the future of the planet. I’m hoping that’s going to happen soon. It might take a bit longer, but I think overall, we’re just going to see the shift or this change towards the animal free future. Continue.

Alex Shirazi: (22:39)

Does new culture plan to sell as a B2B ingredient, B2C under your own branded CPG product, any plans for that at this stage?

Matt Gibson: (22:50)

Yeah, So we like to think of ourselves as a product company and a branded product. So we do plan to sell our cheese. Co-branded at food service and branded at retail and both approaches have merit in terms of B2C versus B2B. And I think it’s important to understand that for any company using precision fermentation for the first five years, that you’re commercializing, you’re going to be making a pretty scarce product, whether that is a protein you’re signing as an ingredient or an actual, fully fleshed out dairy products. And even though we’ll be making hundreds of tons and the world of dairy rights, that’s microscopic. So the question we ask ourselves at new culture is, what is the best value we can generate for the space or the park that we’re creating for ourselves? And by being a product company, we can control the message, the story, the education content to really make it a captivating, safe, exciting product category for consumers, and once we’ve done that once you’ve really defined the space show people what’s possible. And once we get to the scales where we were like, Hey, we can now really have an impact to not only sell products ourselves, but also to distribute our protein or our curd to other established players so they can start having and meeting their sustainability goals. And then we can start selling more as an ingredient. But I think it’s really important when you have got a scarce product, really define the space and control a lot of the ways that you do that.

Alex Shirazi: (24:14)

You can get in touch with Matt on LinkedIn and learn more about new culture at www.newculturefood.com. Matt, do you have any last insights or advice for our listeners today?

Matt Gibson: (24:27)

Yes, I do. So one of my favorite sayings is the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. So I think if you’re looking to get into the space, if you’re really interested, if you want to join a company, working on this technology, just do it today, like dive into it and learn as much as possible and go for it because this is a super exciting, super compelling, much needed technology and movement that we need all hands on deck. We need as much help as possible from all areas. And I think you’ll quickly learn that you’ll be welcomed by most companies by just having the passion and the perseverance to get yourself involved.

Alex Shirazi: (25:05)

I love it, Matt, thank you so much for being with us today and sharing your insights on the future food

Matt Gibson: (25:09)

Show. Thanks Alex. It’s been fun.

Alex Shirazi: (25:11)

Is your host, Alex, and we look forward to being with you on our next episode.

This transcript was generated by an automated service. Special thanks to Holden Ard for assisting with the transcription for this episode.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Cultured Meat Symposium

Cultured Meat Symposium

Covering topics of sustainability and scalability as it relates to cell-based meat.