The Israeli Startup Building a 3D-Printing, Robot Chef of the Future
As the alternative food technology market has boomed in recent years, an Israeli startup has a vision to bring personalized, plant-based food — prepared by a robot chef — to every kitchen.
Inspired by the success of Nespresso in bringing the professional coffee maker experience from the café into the home, Israel’s SavorEat believes the same can be done in the plant-based food sector.
The startup has developed a one-stop shop robot chef that uses 3D printing technology to produce, cook, and grill plant-based protein burgers – its flagship product – based on the diner’s personalized preferences. The company claims its burgers mimic the experience, flavor, and texture of freshly cooked meat and can be tailored to specific tastes, diets, and lifestyles.
“The world is changing. We are not just doing business. We want to create an impact,” Racheli Vizman, co-founder and CEO of SavorEat, told The Algemeiner in an interview. “Personalized nutrition is the main differentiator we would like to bring to the community. We are changing the status quo of the way people will consume food in the future.”
Born out of a personal medical need to switch her diet to low-fat and healthier choices while also satisfying her cravings, Vizman seven years ago started a journey to develop an alternative food “machine.”
“I couldn’t consume products containing salt, sugar, and fats, and the alternatives of what I could eat were very limited. It was a frustrating time. I lost a lot of energy and I fell into a depression,” Vizman recounted. “I remember myself fantasizing about food that I want to eat. I imagined to myself having a machine that would make food that I need and can find me alternatives that I can consume, that give me the same experience and mental fulfillment. At the time it was a gimmick.”
As an already-established entrepreneur, Vizman started some research and found only a few peer startups, but working at a very low scale.
“I saw an opportunity, so I quit my job I was very happy with and went into the unknown — to turn my imagination into reality,” Vizman said.
For the technology, developed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Vizman partnered with Prof. Oded Shoseyov and Prof. Ido Braslavsky, and incorporated SavorEat in 2018. The scientists developed a derivative of nano-cellulose fiber that is extracted from plants and used as a binder to create a variety of meat-like textures.
“At first, I was told that I am literally crazy, that it won’t work, that there is no chance that people will adapt digital printing,” Vizman recalled. “We were the first company in the world that developed 3D printing to create a meatless burger. Today there are at least six different companies that are trying to do something similar, using 3D printing in a digital manufacturing process.”
Plant-based food retail sales in the United States reached $7 billion in 2020, growing 27 percent over the previous year — almost twice as fast as total retail food sales, according to a report by Good Food Institute (GFI) Israel. Dollar sales of plant-based foods have increased 43 percent from 2018 to 2020, while plant-based meat sales jumped 45 percent to $1.4 billion in 2020.
For simpler use, a SavorEat app that lets users choose a dish from the menu and pick their preferred size, protein, fat, and doneness. Cartridges with different ingredients are inserted into the 3D printer to make the patties, which are ready to eat within six minutes after the touch of a button. The grilled meatless burgers have no gluten, cholesterol, added hormones, allergens, preservatives, or antibiotics, the company boasts.
Vizman predicts this kind of “personalized creation” is going to be increasingly sought after by consumers in the coming years.
“In the end, we could have bars of different cartridges of different colors. One is for Cuban food, and one is for Arabic food, and you can select from the bar which cartridge you would like to buy,” she added. “But we are not there yet. We assume that we are at least three years from commercialization.”
For now, SavorEat will focus on testing the robot chef experience in restaurants, institutional kitchens, offices, campuses, and at other food service providers. In Israel, the Rehovot-based startup will in the coming weeks start a pilot with the Burgus Burger Bar chain to bring custom-made meatless patties to fast-food diners.
The company also has eyes on the US market, with plans next year to place a number of its robot chefs at selected US universities, likely in California, as part of a pilot program with Sodexo.
“Younger people at universities are much better adapters and are much more concerned about the environment and about their health,” Vizman explained. “About 40 percent of the millennial generation are thinking about themselves as ‘flexitarians’ who are looking to reduce their meat consumption.”
Vizman described the recipe for the burgers as a “code” that can be easily replicated in different locations, so users can get the same food with the same quality, flavor, and personal preferences — whether in Israel, the US, or Singapore, she said.
Additionally, Vizman argued that automated machine systems offer a way to save labor costs and operational expenses.
“One of the major challenges in the food service industry — and it has become even worse after corona — is that you can’t find employees who want to work in the kitchen,” Vizman said. “So, our machine becomes a mini-manufacturing plant that allows us to create and to manufacture the product based on consumer demand and without human touch in the preparation.”
Led by the success of plant-based meat pioneer Beyond Meat and the rising interest in alternative proteins, the Israeli food tech industry includes more than 100 alternative protein companies, over 40 percent of which are considered startups, according to GFI Israel.
Commenting on the vibrant competition in the alternative food market, Vizman said, “We are not just looking at the food path, we are not just creating patties, that is not our business.”
“We are creating an experience, with a full end-to-end solution. This is a completely different approach than other players because in the end, our product will not sell in the supermarket,” she continued.
Ahead of the pilot program, the company is planning to open an office in the US and have operational and manufacturing activities, while looking for distribution partners.