Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Not Clawing Around: This Company Is Betting on Cell-Based Lobster

Could cell-based lobster soon appear on menus? One company believes there's a future for alternatives to this pricey delicacy long sourced from the sea.
By Leon Kaye
cell-based lobster

The world’s fisheries are in steep decline, and a bevy of solutions are necessary if the world is going to sustain both a growing population and the health of the world’s oceans. It’ll also be incumbent on consumers to rethink what they consider to be a seafood meal. Will people gravitate away from the “fresh catch of the day” and toward the “cell-cultured” selection on future seafood menus? Plus, when considering more expensive sources of seafood, could cell-based lobster become a thing? Well, at least one company out there is banking on the possibility that there’s a future for alternatives to lobster sourced from the sea.

This week, the food technology company Upside Foods acquired Cultured Decadence, a Wisconsin-based company that has been developing lab-grown seafood alternatives, including cell-based lobster.

In case you’ve been out of the loop, Upside Foods used to be known as Memphis Meats, which before its rebranding was known as the first lab-based meat producer on the planet, and a year later, rolled out the globe’s first cell-based meatball.

With concerns over whether the world’s food sector can sustain a global population that could approach 10 billion by mid-century, cell-based meat startups have attracted the eyes and dollars of investors; last year, the first lab-grown meat available for restaurant delivery made its launch in Singapore.

One argument driving innovation in this segment of the food technology sector is that while plant-based protein products keep improving in variety, taste and texture, there will always be consumers who want the “real thing,” as in meat. To that end, watch for more lab-based beef and chicken products to hit the market in the coming decade. But will a cell-based lobster roll resonate with consumers, or let’s be more specific: Will it appeal to people who fancy themselves as “diners” or “foodies?”

Upside Foods believes so, otherwise it wouldn’t have clawed up Cultured Decadence.

“Seafood has a rich and delicious culinary tradition that makes it a favorite across the globe, but climate change is destroying the habitats of crustaceans and posing a major threat to the conventional seafood supply amid skyrocketing demand,” Upside Foods announced in a public statement announcing the acquisition. “At the same time, crustaceans are the most fuel-intensive sector in seafood, accounting for 22 percent of the carbon emissions from fishing vessels.”

Add the fact that the U.K. government recently recognized crabs, lobsters and octopuses as sentient beings – that is, as animals that can feel pain – watch for more consumers to be more conscious about their food choices as they consider animal welfare while making their food choices.

Furthermore, more evidence suggests that seafood supplies worldwide are still at a tipping point, offering consumers another reason to reconsider their current shopping habits.

As for other alternatives to sourcing lobster, one institute in Corsica believes it has unlocked the key to breeding lobster and other crustaceans in captivity in an effort to resuscitate fisheries – but that approach will take some time to scale up.

No word yet on when a cell-based lobster roll will appear on menus anytime soon. For now, Upside Foods has confirmed that the team at the former Cultured Decadence will continue its work as planned, with the Wisconsin site serving as the company’s Midwestern hub.

Image credit: Sharon McCutcheon via Unsplash

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye