Israeli food tech startup SavorEat, a maker of 3D-printed, plant-based meat alternatives, is this week starting to serve up its kosher, vegan, gluten-free burger patties in the US cooked up by a robot chef.
As part of the startup’s debut in the US, students at the University of Denver, Colorado, will be able to order personalized plant-based burgers. The three robot chef machines deployed at two campuses at the University of Denver are expected to print and serve about 10,000 plant-based meals.
For the rollout in the US, SavorEat in 2021 partnered with Sodexo Operations, the American subsidiary of Paris-based food services and facilities management conglomerate Sodexo. To operate in the US market, the startup obtained a series of approvals and conducted safety tests and inspections of the robot chef to comply with regulatory standards.
SavorEat co-founder and CEO Racheli Vizman told The Times of Israel that the launch at the University of Denver is the first step of the startup’s plan for the commercialization of its robot chef and plant-based products at universities and tech company offices across the US. For now, Vizman is also looking at commercial opportunities in New York.
Up until now, the washing machine-sized machine has been cooking up plant-based meat patties in casual restaurants, fast-food restaurants, office headquarters, and college campuses in Israel.
“We are the first Israeli food robotic company in the meat alternative sector to launch in the US and to offer the growing flexitarians’ target audience in the US, almost 50 percent of the population, new, healthy, and personalized alternatives (without any animal-based ingredients),” said Vizman, who co-founded the startup in 2018 with her partners Prof. Oded Shoseyov and Prof. Ido Braslevsky. Both professors are researchers at the Yissum Research Development Company, the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Rehovot-based SavorEat is seeking to meet the nutrition needs of a growing share of consumers who consider themselves vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian — people who eat a mostly plant-based diet with animal products occasionally thrown in and for whom animal-free products that taste, look, and feel like meat can prove an attractive option for a meal. A poll in the US suggests that more than half of young Americans in their 20s consider themselves flexitarians.
SavorEat’s product combines additive manufacturing technology, plant-based ingredients in cartridges, and a unique, plant-based cellulose fiber developed by Shoseyov and Braslevsky. The cellulose binds the ingredients together, creating a meat-like texture. The startup went public on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in 2020, raising NIS 42.6 million from Israeli institutional investors, including Psagot Provident Funds, Mor Gemel, and Meitav Dash, in the share sale.
Vizman describes the 3D printer, or robot chef, as a machine capable of making a product according to specifications. Consumers can design and configure the level of protein, fat, cellulose, water, and flavors they would like to have in their food, and select the size they want.
The products can then be cooked or grilled, producing the same “sizzling sounds” and smells as meat does. The result is a vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free burger patty made of pea and other plant-based proteins that is cooked and ready to eat within three minutes.
“Our solution allows us to create varieties of different kinds of food that can be manufactured and crafted automatically, with no human touch involved – a complete personalized dish that can be tailored to consumer preferences,” said Vizman. “It is a similar concept to the use of coffee pods in Nespresso machines but instead of having coffee pods, you have cartridges with ingredients that you can create varieties of foods.”
“These days we focus on meat alternatives, but we are also working on additional solutions that can also serve other types of products, not just meat alternatives,” she added.
Vizman disclosed that the startup expects in the coming weeks to come out with a new generation of the robot chef 2.0, which has voice capabilities and can produce 90 patties in an hour, about double the number of the current 3D printer.
“You will be able to speak with it and ask it what you want to get, and it also has a screen where you will see your patty being prepared in real time,” she said. “The next versions of our product that we are targeting are small robots that can make and cook us personalized food at home.”
Companies around the globe are looking to make inroads in the alternative meat space, either with plant-based offerings or cultured products, which they see as a solution to the needs of the world’s growing population. Compared to the inefficient and unsustainable production of meat, cultured meat is estimated to consume by comparison 10 times less water, less land, and less energy.
The green fingerprint of the technology developed by SavorEat is expected to save about 33,000 kg of CO₂ emissions and over 21 million liters of water, the startup said.
A growing number of Israeli companies are already operating in the alternative meat sector including Aleph Farms, which is seeking to become the first halal-certified cultivated meat producer; MeaTech 3D, a maker of lab-grown meat products that started research into the production of cultivated pork meat; Future Meat Technologies and SuperMeat, which grow beef and poultry cells, respectively; and Redefine Meat, also a maker of 3D-printed plant-based meat.
Ricky Ben-David contributed to this report.