Data science firm StartUs Insights released a list of the “Top 10 Food Technology Trends and Innovations 2021” and outlined two promising startups focused on creating 3D food printers for meat alternatives and personalized nutrition. The names that made the cut in this segment were SavorEat, an Israeli plant-based meat startup, and Cocuus, a Spanish company developing cell-based meat alternatives. The two brands have developed their own 3D printing technology to handle food products with the exact specifications and quality reproducibility as real meats, aiming for large-scale food production and low costs. Like many of the companies in this segment, they are still at an early stage. Nonetheless, their work will pave the way to democratize 3D printed fake meats as they attempt to meet the immediate food needs of the global population sustainably.
As far as alternative meats go, plant-based options have been making headlines in recent years, driving consumer interest through the roof and attracting traditional players in the food industry, like Nestlé, Burger King, and McDonald’s. As a result, investors poured millions into startups developing sustainable fake meat products and witnessed sales soar, particularly in the U.S.
Following the success of plant-based meats, a niche of emerging 3D printing technologies in the food tech sector has also generated a lot of hype. With food printers enabling personalized diet and alternative protein-based meals, two emerging businesses are developing technology to make synthetic foods for large-scale production without the complexity and costs of traditional meat.
Navarre-based company Cocuus has succeeded in developing synthetic meat cutlets similar in appearance to those found in butcher’s shops and, supposedly, not very different in taste. Using its 3D printing technology, the team relies on bioinks based on animal cells, which can come from less usable parts of a cow or created in a bioreactor. A recent social media post by startup Founder and Chief Operating Officer Patxi Larumbe revealed the company’s first 3D bioprinted cutlets, made from meat cells. Best of all, he announced that the new technology could produce more than eight kilograms (17 pounds) of plant- and cell-based meat per minute.
Cocuus is already behind some creative commercially available developments, including the Level-Up food inkjet printer, which can print images on beer foam, coffee cream, and pastries without changing the taste. Also, the Laserglow food 2D/3D laser printer technology can cut, engrave, and sculpt a wide variety of solid foods without altering the taste, flavor, or texture, and moves 100 times faster than 3D printing, according to the manufacturer. In addition, however, the company’s bioprinting technology could become a critical tool to help reduce the environmental impact of feedlot farming systems.
At the July 2021 Food 4 Future congress in Bilbao, visitors were among the first to see Cocuus’ 3D printed lamb chops live. Aside from the chops, the startup has also managed to manufacture bacon or lamb ribs in the same way and managed to replicate the process to develop synthetic salmon fillets and tuna. The Navarrese company hopes to take meat manufacturing to an industrial scale, thanks to a soon-to-be-patented machine and robotics technology capable of producing 10 kilos of synthetic cutlet per minute.
As for SavorEat, things are moving fast. The Israeli startup that develops plant-based meat using a combination of chef robots, proprietary 3D printing, and non-GMO ingredients has successfully concluded consumer tasting tests for its first product, the meatless burger. With plans to expand to steaks, kebabs, and alternative seafood, SavorEat claims its meat alternatives recreate the unique experience, taste, and texture of the real deal and are tailorable to specific tastes, diets, and lifestyles.
Founded in 2018, SavorEat’s patent-pending technology is based on research licensed from the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture. Called the “Robot-Chef,” this novel platform will combine 3D printing technology and an integral cooking system to allow custom preparation of meat substitutes. The aim is to create kosher, vegan, and gluten-free meat alternatives from cartridges that contain purely plant ingredients combined with a proprietary texture-forming fiber. Businesses and institutions like food trucks, restaurants, hotels, military bases, airlines, cruise ships, and convenience stores stand to benefit from this advanced 3D chef.
So far, the business has developed two prototypes, established strategic partnerships with undisclosed restaurant chains, and collaborated with a leading food industry corporation to develop formulations for its cartridges—which the company believes will drive most of its future revenue. In December of 2020, SavorEat became the first plant-based meat firm in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE) after raising NIS42.6 million ($13 million) from local institutional investors in its initial public offering (IPO). Commercialization of the technology and cartridge formulations is expected to begin in 2023. Until then, SavorEat plans to continue developing potentially marketable products, including meatless chicken breast, lamb and pork alternatives, and fake seafood.
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