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Max Jamilly
Max Jamilly

In this instalment of The Cell Base's ‘Start-up spotlight,' we speak to Max Jamilly, co-founder of Hoxton Farms, a UK-based biotech working in the cultivated fat space.

What inspired the establishment of Hoxton Farms, and what factors led the company to focus on cultivating real animal fat through cellular agriculture? Could you tell us more about the inspiration and driving force behind the establishment of the company?

At Hoxton Farms, we grow real animal fat – without the animals. People crave delicious meat alternatives but today plant-based meat doesn’t taste good enough. Cultivated fat is the missing ingredient that makes meat alternatives look, cook, and taste like the real thing. My co-founder, Ed, and I have always loved food, and we’re passionate about using tech to solve big problems.

I’m a synthetic biologist, and Ed is a mathematician and machine learning expert. We wanted to make a difference in the food space, not only because we are both foodies and avid home cooks, but also because of food’s huge impact on every single individual's day-to-day life.

Like many others, we wanted to reduce our meat consumption, but we couldn’t find delicious alternatives to traditional meat. Burgers tasted like coconut; sausages were greasy; bacon was bland…This is because today’s plant-based products use plant oils that are unappetising and unsustainable. This is when we realised products were missing the most important component of meat: fat.

Co-founders Ed Steele and Max Jamilly
Hoxton Farms' co-founders Ed Steele and Max Jamilly

That’s where we saw the opportunity to change the meat industry, bringing together our computational modelling and cell biology skills in an innovative process to grow animal fat from stem cells: a sustainable, scalable, cost-effective ingredient.

90% of plant-based consumers also eat meat, but poor taste is the primary factor preventing repeat purchases. In fact, global dollar sales of plant-based meat were $6 billion in 2022, compared to traditional meat sales of $1.3 trillion.

There is huge latent demand for realistic meat alternatives, but consumers need mouthwatering options and the key to unlocking them is fat – which gives meat its flavour. That’s why, in 2020, we co-founded Hoxton Farms with the mission of transforming every meal on the planet, cultivating an irresistibly fatty future.

What unique benefits do Hoxton Farms' cell-cultivated animal fat products offer, and how do you envision their impact on the future of sustainable meat consumption?

Unlike many companies in the cell-cultivated meat space, we make cultivated fat to sell as a B2B ingredient. Our customers combine our fat with plant-based protein to make ‘hybrid’ products that sizzle, smell and taste like traditional meat.

Hoxton Farms' cultivated fat
Hoxton Farms' cultivated fat

There are four main advantages of making cultivated fat for hybrid products. First, cultivated fat is the real thing, enabling manufacturers to replace flavourings, binders and filler ingredients – improving their performance, nutrition and taste. Second, a small amount of fat is enough to transform a product to become moreish.

Plant-based proteins can provide texture and volume, combined with cultivated fat to deliver flavour, sizzle, and aroma. Third, fat is faster and more cost-effective to grow than muscle, allowing us to scale more quickly. Lastly, by replacing unstable, liquid plant oils such as coconut oil or sunflower oil, cultivated fat enables exciting new categories of meat alternatives, especially whole cuts such as steak, pork belly or bacon.

Our initial focus is on pork fat, which has the most distinct taste, accounts for the largest share of global meat consumption and is important in a range of countries. However, our production platform extends to other types of meat including beef, chicken and fish and we can customise our product to go beyond the taste and nutritional properties of traditional fat.

We are now scaling up production capacity and collaborating with partners in preparation for commercial launch in 2025. Our vision is that these hybrid alternatives will maximise the number of people who eat more sustainably.2

What are the essential technologies and capabilities that make up Hoxton Farms' services?

Hoxton Farms’ unique advantage lies in the combination of synthetic biology and mathematical optimisation. We use machine learning models to optimise cells, media (the food we feed our cells) and bioprocess (the fat production process), combined with a high-throughput platform driven by robotics and computer vision for data collection. We have proprietary tech for every part of this process, from cell lines to unique reactors.

Most importantly, what has made us successful thus far is our people. We’re lucky to have a world-class team of scientists, mathematicians, hardware engineers and computational experts – all working in tandem. Our cell-culture scientists are working to understand the most effective ways to grow the fattiest, juiciest fat cells, which our bioprocessing team then works to scale. Our food development kitchen also allows us to test the flavour profiles of the cultivated fat we harvest, and prototype products with customers.

Inside the lab

Our computational team uses machine learning algorithms and mathematical modelling to design a production process that is uniquely cost-effective and scalable. An interdisciplinary approach means that mathematicians work closely with biologists every day, allowing us to use machine learning to optimise biological processes. As a result, we are on track to reach cost-parity with plant oils at commercial scale.

Sustainability and ethical considerations play a significant role in the cell-based food sector. How does Hoxton Farms approach these aspects in its operations, specifically in the cultivation of animal fat?

The environmental impact of the traditional meat industry is no secret, and global demand for meat shows no signs of stopping: it has increased five-fold since the 1960s and is expected to double by 2050.

The high resource use, biodiversity loss, and greenhouse gas emissions (which some experts say could be as high as 20% of all global GHG emissions) associated with livestock production have led to increased calls for reduced consumption of animal-based products. However, plant-based products currently use plant oils, which have their own sustainability challenges, such as deforestation to enable the production of palm oil.

Cultivated fat ticks the boxes that many people are looking for in meat alternatives. It is a solution to accelerating the shift towards sustainable plant-based diets while minimising consumers’ behavioural change.

Has Hoxton Farms encountered any challenges on its journey so far? How did the company navigate and overcome these obstacles?

We’ve had plenty of challenges along the way, most recently setting up our 14,000-square-foot pilot facility in Central London – the UK’s first dedicated facility for producing cultivated fat. The building we moved into was a complete blank slate (for example, it didn’t even have HVAC or wiring).

Also, our needs are much more complex than those of a typical start-up, so it was a huge effort to outfit the space and navigate the required permits. My co-founder Ed oversaw much of the operational side, and while we heavily relied on our team’s expertise, we decided to outsource a number of tasks to experts to keep our team focused. Our team’s hard work and planning meant we completed the construction project on time and on budget with zero R&D downtime.

Inside the lab

Right now, our most exciting challenge is scaling up production so that we can produce cultivated fat in the quantities required to meet customer demand. This is why we’ve developed powerful proprietary bioreactor technology to minimise technical risk and accelerate how quickly we can get to commercial scale.

We’ve also worked hard to refine our computational platform, which helps us constantly improve the efficiency of our process so – aided by economies of scale – we can keep operational costs down. Maintaining affordability is a priority for us, as it will enable more people to access delicious and sustainable meat alternatives.

What exciting developments or plans does Hoxton Farms have in the pipeline for the future, and what can we expect to see from the company in the coming months or years?

We are focused on scaling up production in our new pilot facility to meet future demand. Alongside this, we’ll be working with customers and partners to co-develop hybrid meat alternatives containing cultivated fat and plant-based protein, while continuing conversations with regulators across multiple geographies to obtain approval to sell these products.

We’re also growing quickly, including the recent addition of two senior hires – Vítor Espírito Santo and Nadav Tal - so we are excited to use their expertise to help us scale production and achieve regulatory approval.

#HoxtonFarms #UK

Start-up spotlight: Hoxton Farms

Phoebe Fraser

5 February 2024

Start-up spotlight: Hoxton Farms

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