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  • Writer's picturePhoebe Fraser

Start-up spotlight: Newform Foods

Co-founders Tasneem Karodia and Brett Thompson
Co-founders Tasneem Karodia and Brett Thompson

In this instalment of The Cell Base's ‘Start-up spotlight,' we speak to Brett Thompson and Tasneem Karodia, co-founders of Newform Foods, a South Africa-based cultured meat start-up aiming to help food producers, retailers and business owners develop and scale cell-based meat manufacturing.

What inspired the establishment of Newform Foods, and what is the company's main focus?

The inspiration and driving force behind the establishment of Newform Foods (previously Mzansi Meat Co.) was to transform global food systems. Our co-founder and CEO, Brett Thompson, has dedicated most of his career to combatting the effects of factory farming. Tasneem Karodia, our co-founder and COO, joined the industry to create a more sustainable food system.

As the global population increases, we consume more meat and despite the increasing popularity around plant-based meat alternatives, these offerings don’t move the dial enough to change the environmental effects of conventional agriculture. That being said, meat is a rich form of protein that brings people together. Here in South Africa, it’s an indelible part of culture. So rather than trying to convince people to eat less meat, we’re working to bring something better to the table.

Cultivated meat is the same meat people love. The only difference is that it’s made in the best way possible. We’ve had some truly remarkable moments during our tastings, with feedback indicating that it tastes just as good, too. We are leveraging a continent-spanning research and development network to help food producers, retailers, business owners and change-makers develop and scale cultivated meat at a significantly lower cost compared to industry norms. We’re working to make cultivated meat a staple in mainstream markets by providing innovation and scalable technology. This will enable meat and food producers to enter the market.

Newform Foods cell-based meat

Newform Foods has successfully cultivated various products. Can you tell us more about these and the reason why the company selected these meats?

When we launched our company, it was always our vision to start with beef and make products like burgers, sausages and ground mince. Beef is a staple ingredient in cultures all over the world. It’s also the most costly when it comes to environmental harm. We unveiled the first cultivated beef burgers in Africa in 2022 and shortly after we started developing a lamb product which we showcased in 2023. This was after three months of developing the necessary technology. We also have plans to further develop a variety of cell-lines which we will be unveiling at a later stage, but for now we’re focusing on scaling the production of our beef and lamb products.

Newform Foods cell-based beef burgers

What unique benefits does Newform Foods' bioproduction platform offer, and how do you envision its impact on the future of cell-based meat production?

We’ve developed a bioproduction platform to transform the process of producing cultivated meat. The results have shown a significant reduction in both cost and time requirements. By breaking down these barriers, we aim to make production more efficient and accessible in order to create new opportunities for a wide range of stakeholders.

Our team has achieved significant reductions in bio-production platform capital expenditure and operation costs. For example, our customised bioreactors are significantly more cost-effective compared to off-the-shelf equivalents. In addition, our proprietary sterilisation and bioprocessing technology simplifies the operation of bioreactors to reduce costs while increasing efficiency. Intuitive design and flexibility. The simplicity of our design implementation leads to easy tech transfer and operation by partners. We incorporate 3D printing technology in the creation of prototype design elements for maximum efficiency and output in this flexible system that can be adapted to a wide range of product lines.

Inside the lab with Newform Foods

Our interdisciplinary team has developed a process for R&D to finish product development of a prototype in six months. Our favourable regulatory environment allows for rapid speed and output. We are laser-focused on upstream bio-product development to enable effective food partner collaborations. Our bioproduction platform has multiple applications, making it easier for food producers to speed up their development and enter the industry. This makes it possible for companies to go from zero to prototype and from prototype to pilot, faster and more affordably than ever before. We want to empower business leaders looking to future-proof their operations by offering alternatives to what’s currently available on the market.

Sustainability and ethical considerations play a significant role in the cell-based food sector. How does Newform Foods approach these aspects in its operations?

The ethical considerations were a massive inspiration for starting our company. We want to shape a food landscape based on harm reduction. Fundamentally, cultivated meat production uses fewer resources, like land, water and energy. The process starts by collecting a small sample of cells from a living animal. We work with an animal farm sanctuary here in Cape Town, South Africa, called Greyton Farm Animal Sanctuary. This incredible organisation provides a home to many abandoned animals ranging from chickens, cows, and lambs that the meat industry has otherwise discarded. By providing us with cell samples, these animals are then free to live out their days on a beautiful plot of land, the way nature intended. In terms of energy usage, our R&D facility incorporates mix-energy sources like solar, generators and the grid to power our operations.

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

Being Africa-based, we’ve developed a natural sense of autonomy and resourcefulness. This has empowered us to adopt a ‘build it, don’t buy it’ mindset, leading to a drastic reduction in the cost of producing our products.

Newform Foods' cell-based meatball

Africa is growing from a low base in venture capital, which is why we’re working to refine and scale our bioproduction platform and partner with food producers so we can lower these costs and serve up more meat to more people. So far, it’s been successful, so much so that we’ve even had investors who had previously shown no interest in our company, call us back months later after reading headlines about the progress we’ve made.

We had a remarkable year in 2023, but this year will probably be the most challenging for the industry at large. Although fundraising will be challenging in the future, we’ve come a long way since starting our company and these challenges won’t deter us from our mission to 'Shape Tomorrow's Food Landscape.' By sticking to our company's values of innovation, transparency, diversity and founder thinking, we’ve been able to push forward and evolve constantly. We’re about to unveil some exciting new developments in this regard, so stick around for announcements dropping soon!

Collaboration with the scientific community can be crucial in advancing cell-based technologies. Can you shed light on Newform Foods' engagement with researchers and scientists?

Collaboration is in our DNA. We’ve always valued input from our peers in the industry, but also stakeholders and partners who help drive our mission forward. What we’re doing is not easy and requires a special kind of collaboration, which is why we’re working with partners like the international flavour house MANE.

Taste and mouthfeel are going to be the factors that win over customers when cultivated meat is available to mainstream audiences. We work with MANE to create delicious hybrid products, which involve cultivated meat blended with plant-based protein ingredients. On the production side, we’re working with South African engineering firm Project Assignments to build a pilot facility for cultivated meat right here in Cape Town. This will be the largest facility of its kind in Africa and we can’t wait to move in and get busy.

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

We’re in the process of expanding globally by opening an office in the United Kingdom. This will be our commercial headquarters while our R&D operations will remain in sunny South Africa as we continue to evolve our production capabilities. We’re looking at engaging with food and meat manufacturers across the globe, with our new commercial hub in the UK set to give us a larger footprint and bigger reach.


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