Sharon Spielman, Food Engineering (SS): Tell me briefly how Because Animals got its start. Why this niche?

Shannon Falconer (SF): It started, appropriately, at a cat rescue. Both my business partner, Joshua Errett, and I were volunteering to help get stray and feral cats off the street. The irony of helping one animal while being forced to feed them food resulting in the suffering of not only other animals but also the planet as a whole, was not lost on us. Commercial pet food is made with something referred to as 4D meat, which comes from animals that are dead, diseased, dying and disabled. Pet food is made from meat that is unfit for human consumption. I have a PhD in biochemistry and when we met I was working as a researcher at Stanford University and Josh was just finishing his MBA. With our combined expertise in science and business we knew we could create a healthier, safer, more environmentally friendly way to feed our pets, and that’s when we decided to create cultured meat for pet food and we founded Because Animals.

We don’t see it as niche at all! Rather, we see it as thinking ahead. The way we currently produce meat, with environmentally disastrous and inefficient concentrated animal feeding operations (a.k.a. factory farms) is unsustainable. There will come a time when that method of meat production will no longer exist—we simply won’t have the resources for it. We have to find alternatives, and with the rapid onset of global warming, such alternatives can’t come soon enough.

SS: Can you tell me how your products differ from traditional pet food?

SF: We are not making a meat alternative, we are making meat—the alternative is the way that meat is produced.

In creating cultured meat, we collect a small sample of cells from an animal and then grow those cells in a nutrient-rich environment until they grow, and grow and grow until there are enough animal cells—which, collectively, are otherwise known as meat!—that we then add to our food. The process of growing our meat is very similar to the production of beer or yogurt, where yeast (beer) or probiotic (yogurt) cells are grown inside a large vat, surrounded by vitamins, minerals and amino acids—all of the nutrients that are essential for cells regardless of whether they’re grown inside or outside of an animal. With our process, we don’t need vast acres of land, gallons of water, or antibiotics, hormones or fossil fuels to raise, feed and slaughter animals. The process of culturing meat—which is a much safer, sustainable way to produce meat that also stands to be healthier for our pets—is actually very similar to a food production process that has been used by humans for thousands and thousands of years.

We currently sell probiotic-based supplements, which we call Omega & Probiotic Sprinkles, for each cats and dogs. We also have a line of organic dog cookies made from nutritional yeast, called Noochies. We offer a peanut butter-flavored cookie as well as a pumpkin maple syrup-flavored cookie with added beta glucan from yeast, which helps combat inflammation and boost overall immunity. Both our supplements and cookies are made with cultured ingredients that are incredibly healthy for pets.

Shannon Falconer is CEO of Because Animals, a pet food startup that cultures meat. She has a PhD in biochemistry and worked as a researcher at Stanford University before this endeavor.

Shannon Falconer, Because Animals


Shannon Falconer cultures meat in the lab at Because Animals. The novel pet food company wanted to create a healthier, safer, more environmentally friendly way to feed pets, so they used their combined expertise in science and business to create cultured meat for pet food and founded Because Animals. Photo courtesy of Because Animals

SS: Please tell me about how your pet food is manufactured.

SF: We are still developing our cultured meat, but the process to produce pet food with our meat will be completely vertical—we can harvest the meat and prepare the food on the same production floor.

SS: What are your greatest engineering challenges when producing your products? How do you overcome them?

SF: Culturing meat for large-scale commercialization is a significant engineering challenge. Not because culturing the meat itself is difficult—indeed, researchers have been growing tissue in a lab for many decades—but because it’s very difficult to do at a price point and yield that is commercially viable. As such, we need to create customized equipment that permits us to grow and harvest our cells at the scale and cost that will be accepted by customers. But we’re a team of engineers, biochemists and tissue scientists who love solving complex problems, so our science team members are definitely in their element!

SS: What trends do you see in this market?

SF: We’ve seen a boom in plant-based foods for dogs. We totally support these companies—they have many of the same sustainability goals as Because Animals. But we are doing something different: Specifically, rather than creating a plant-based meat alternative for our pets, we are creating meat—with the difference being our production method, which is more environmentally sustainable and humane. We want our cats and dogs to eat meat, but we want them to eat meat that is produced responsibly and safely. At the moment, that product doesn’t exist but it will soon, so keep your eye out for Because Animals.

SS: What emerging technologies do you see in food manufacturing in general as well as specifically for this alternative pet food market?

SF: Where we see both plant-based products and cultured meat as the future for human food, we absolutely see cultured meat—and only cultured meat—as the future for pet parents wanting to feed their cat or dog a truly sustainable, humane, nutritious and safe pet food.

SS: Anything else you would like to add?

SF: Although there are a handful of other companies creating pet foods made with meat alternatives, Because Animals is currently the only company creating cultured meat for cats and dogs. We are excited to welcome new entrants to the cultured meat pet food category when they emerge, but we are also very proud to be trailblazers and the world’s first cultured meat pet food company. FE

Intro photo courtesy of Getty Images/humonia