AgTech Food Processing FoodTech Meat

Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi Bring Cultivated Meat to Japan

Aleph Farms, Ltd., and Mitsubishi Corporation’s Food Industry Group signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to bring cultivated meat to the Japanese table. Aleph Farms will provide its proven, scalable manufacturing platform (BioFarm™) for cultivation of whole-muscle steaks. Mitsubishi Corporation will provide its expertise in biotechnology processes, branded food manufacturing, and local distribution channels in Japan. 

“The MoU with Mitsubishi Corporation’s Food Industry Group marks an important milestone for us, as we methodically build the foundations of our global go-to-market activities with selected partners.”

Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms.

Mitsubishi Corporation is a global integrated business enterprise that develops and operates a global network of 1,700 group companies in 90 countries. With yearly revenue of US$140B, Mitsubishi Corporation is comprised of 10 Business Groups covering virtually every industry. The Food Industry Group covers food resources, fresh foods, consumer products, and food ingredients, and is active in every link of the food supply chain, from the production and sourcing of raw materials to the manufacturing of finished food products.

“The cooperation demonstrates Aleph Farms’ strategy of working together with the food and meat industries to ensure a successful integration of cultivated meat within the ecosystem, while maximizing the positive impact we make,” adds Toubia. “We are excited to bring cultivated meat production closer to the Japanese market.”

Amir Ilan, Resident Chef at Aleph Farms

This cooperation takes a lead role in the fight against climate change, especially now that the Japanese government stipulated a goal of achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions. In April 2020, Aleph Farms committed to eliminating emissions associated with its meat production by 2025 and reach the same net-zero emissions across its entire supply chain by 2030. As the demand for meat continues to rise with evolving lifestyles, the cooperation will also provide actionable solutions to overcome the societal challenges to the local population surrounding the domestic meat supply. This includes implementing stable food channels of quality nutrition.

“This is part of a network of ‘BioFarm to Fork’ strategic partnerships being developed by Aleph Farms in APAC, LATAM, and Europe, following the successful 2019 Round-A strategic investment by Cargill and the Migros Group in Switzerland.” 

Gary Brenner, VP of Market Development at Aleph Farms

Aleph Farms and Mitsubishi Corporation are members of the “Cellular Agriculture Study Group”, a consortium implementing policy proposals under the Japanese Center for Rule-Making Strategy. The consortium brings together a range of experts on the definition and construction of cellular agricultural foods. It also adds clarification of conditions for Japanese products and technologies to have international competitiveness and establishes mechanisms for coexistence and division of roles with existing industries.

About Aleph Farms:

Aleph Farms is a food company that is paving a new way forward as a leader of the global sustainable food ecosystem, working passionately to grow delicious beef steaks from non-genetically engineered cells, isolated from a cow, using a fraction of the resources required for raising an entire animal for meat, and without antibiotics. Aleph Farms was co-founded with The Kitchen Hub of the Strauss Group and with Professor Shulamit Levenberg, Dean of the Biomedical Engineering faculty of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Aleph Farms is backed by some of the world’s most innovative food producers, such as Cargill, Migros, and the Strauss Group.

The company has recently received top accolades for its contribution to the global sustainability movement from the World Economic Forum, UNESCO, Netexplo Forum and EIT Food.

Additional Facts

Japan is one of the world’s densest populated countries, and while it has an incredibly robust economy (the 3rd largest) this small island nation of 127 million people relies on importing over 60% of its food and resources from abroad.

Among the leading supplier countries of meat products, the United States represented the most important trading partners of the archipelago, especially for beef and veal. In 2019, Japan entered trade agreements with the U.S. and the European Union to expand the trade of agricultural products and open up the meat market to foreign exporters.

From 2004 to 2006, Japan banned imports of U.S. beef due to the discovery of bovine spongiform encephalopathy,boosting imports from Australia and making it the top supplier of beef to Japan. The U.S. share of this market has since recovered but imports remain below pre-ban totals.

Japan’s high population density and low self-sufficiency in food production has led to a change in consumer diet. Traditionally, the Japanese diet would consist of high volumes of fish and seafood, however, due to demand outweighing supply, these products now boast high price premiums. Therefore, many consumers have increased their consumption of cheaper proteins such as beef, pork and lamb.

Although Japan is an affluent country, slow economic growth has left many consumers reluctant to spend. With beef and pork prices rising, Japan has seen a slow uptake in lamb consumption, as lamb meat is considered a healthier and cheaper alternative. In contrast, consumers are also willing to pay an extremely high price for a small quantity of premium product, providing it is only purchased occasionally as a treat.

Consumer age has a direct impact on the variety of meat consumed, for instance older generations often look for a high fat content in beef products, driving significant demand for Wagyu beef. In contrast, younger generations can be considered more health conscious, creating a trend toward the consumption of lean meat. In addition, more than 35% of Japan’s population live alone, which has generated high demand for smaller cuts of meat and single-portion meal options.

The nation’s food self-sufficiency rate on a caloric intake basis was 37 percent in fiscal 2018, the lowest level in 25 years, after domestic wheat and soy bean production dropped sharply due to bad weather, the latest data compiled by the farm ministry has revealed. The food self-sufficiency ratio indicates the share of food consumed in Japan that is covered by domestic production.

Since 2000, the government has sought to raise the nation’s food self-sufficiency rate as a policy goal, setting the target rate originally at 45 percent, then 50 percent in 2010 under the Democratic Party of Japan-led administration and then setting it back to 45 percent in 2015. The rate, however, keeps falling instead of rising. 

Japan is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. It had previously said it would go carbon neutral “at the earliest possible date,” vowing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Over the last several decades Japan’s farming population has steadily decreased as the average age of farmers has risen. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in its census on the agriculture and forestry industries found in 2015 that there were 2.09 million people engaged in agriculture, representing a decrease of 60% compared to three decades earlier. 

Japan’s aging population and low birth rate has produced a labor shortage that is being felt in many industries and it will not be easy to attract new farmers. In response, though, the government is considering introducing a new five-year visa for overseas workers in certain sectors in a bid to increase the number of foreign laborers in agriculture and other core industries.

While Japan produces a number of agricultural exports, space for farming is already incredibly limited by sprawling urban regions and steep mountainous areas across the country.  

Labor is a valuable commodity in Japan, and the country has done incredibly well in automating many of its unskilled services. You can see this firsthand by walking down any Japanese street or visiting any Japanese factory. Robots automate your transit and vending machines are available everywhere, selling everything from soda to pencils. Many restaurants even have self payment machines, not only making ordering efficient, but also eliminating the need for extra waitstaff.

The average age of the Japanese farmer is 65 years old. And while it is worth our admiration to see this generation spending their golden years producing food, it isn’t the most sustainable demographic trajectory. With an aging and shrinking farmer population, it’s not surprising to see that automated assistance is becoming a rising priority for many working closely in Japan’s food production system.