Israeli startup SavorEat, a maker of 3D-printed, plant-based “meat” alternatives, has signed an agreement with Sodexo Operations, the American subsidiary of Paris-based food services and facilities management conglomerate Sodexo, to launch a pilot project offering the startup’s kosher, vegan, gluten-free, allergen-free burger patties in the US.
This is the first major international partnership for SavorEat, which is also launching its food products with the Israeli burger restaurant chain BBB this year.
“Our main market is in the US so for us, this is a good opportunity to collaborate with an institutional kitchen as a way to test the market, evaluate challenges, and better design our final product to meet customer demand,” said Racheli Vizman, SavorEat’s CEO, 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.
SavorEat went public on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange in November, raising NIS 42.6 million (some $13 million) from Israeli institutional investors in the share sale.
Speaking to The Times of Israel on Tuesday, Vizman said that the details of the partnership with Sodexo were still being finalized but that the startup was looking to start the pilot at a number of universities across the country.
“The younger population is much more open to food technologies, to innovation, and to change the way we consume food,” she explained, citing a recent poll that suggests that more than half of young Americans in their 20s consider themselves “flexitarians” who eat a mostly plant-based diet with animal products occasionally thrown in.
Sodexo is one of the largest food services companies in the world, offering various services to the business industry, government institutions, healthcare organizations, and educational institutions in 80 countries across the world, with more than 400,000 employees.
In a document (Hebrew) announcing the agreement this week, SavorEat said the partnership will allow Sodexo to expand its food offerings starting at higher education institutions in the US where the conglomerate already operates.
‘More than just plant-based patties’
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 3D printer is more like a “robot chef,” as Vizman calls it — a machine capable of making the product according to specifications with varying amounts of protein, fat, cellulose, water, and flavors and colorings. The products can then be cooked or grilled, making the same “sizzling sounds” and smells as meat does.
The machine, which is the height of two microwaves and the length of one, is part of the dining experience, explained Vizman. “SavorEat is more than just the patties. We are creating something completely unique with a robot chef personalizing the product, making it according to the personal needs of the customer. This is quite a new experience,” she told The Times of Israel.
Vizman has an engineering background and previously worked in the healthcare industry, holding various executive and managerial positions in pharmaceutical, diagnostics, and medical devices startups. Seven years ago, she suffered a “severe medical episode” that forced her to adopt a restrictive diet and led her to establish her own startup focused on nutrition and food.
“Personalized food and medicine is the next big thing and I wanted to create better solutions” than those already available, she said.
Her vision is for the robot chef/3D printing machine to “become the next microwave, a microwave that actually makes the food, in people’s home, easily, more cost-efficiently and everyone can eat how they want.”
SavorEat is also working on additional products such as plant-based pork, “a novelty for most Israelis,” turkey, and seafood, Vizman said. “All the products will mimic the taste and texture of the real thing.”
“And it’s kosher! It’s all plant-based, there are no animal products, allergens like soy, or gluten, and there is no human touch that could cause cross-contamination like when chefs handle or cook food in the same grill,” said Vizman, adding that the company works with rabbinical authorities in Israel and has kosher certification.
SavorEat has already filed patent applications for the 3D food production method in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
It is now looking for additional partners to help accelerate its efforts to offer plant-based foods worldwide, Vizman said.
Local and global competition
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.
A growing number of Israeli companies are already operating in the sector including Aleph Farms, which recently raised $105 million from global investors; 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.