- Business Insider spoke with Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, the founder and CEO of Redefine Meat, about the development process of its plant-based meat product.
- Redefine Meat, which raised $US6 million in seed funding last year, designs and manufactures plant-based steaks using 3D-printing technology.
- Each steak contains around 3 million voxels, or 3D pixels, and is designed by layering three different main components: muscle, fat, and moisture.
- Redefine Meat uses algorithms to alter the composition of its product and conducts several tastings each day to continually improve the taste and texture of the steak.
- “Alt-steak” will launch in high-end Israeli restaurants this year, with plans to roll out at restaurants in Germany and Switzerland in 2020.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Steak without the cow – that’s what Eshchar Ben-Shitrit set out to make when he founded Redefine Meat in 2018.
Ben-Shitrit, who grew up in a farming community in Israel-Palestine, also grew up eating meat. After he switched over to a plant-based diet, he began wondering how he could apply technology to recreate the experience of eating meat using plant-based ingredients.
Thus was born Redefine Meat. The technology startup uses a 3D printing process to layer voxels, or pixels, into cuts of beef-like steak. Each steak contains around 3 million voxels, or 3D pixels, and is designed by layering three different main components: muscle, fat, and moisture. Last September, Redefine Meat received $US6 million in funding from CPT Capital, the venture fund behind Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. This year, Redefine Meat will unveil its first product: “alt-steak,” a plant-based 3D-printed steak that will become available at certain high-end restaurants in Israel this year.
In 2018, global meat substitutes reached $US19.5 billion according to Euromonitor. In 2019, UBS predicted that the plant-based meat industry could be worth $US85 billion by 2030, and it looks like the industry is well on track to hit that number. Plant-based meat sales have skyrocketed since the beginning of the pandemic after producers rushed to fill the gaps left by a fractured meat supply chain. Beyond Meat launched its grocery product in stores in China on July 4, while Impossible foods partnered with Starbucks to launch a plant-based breakfast sandwich on June 23.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, the biggest players in the alternative-meat space, use plant protein (pea protein and soy protein respectively) and other ingredients to form a product with a structure like ground meat. However, the texture of meat cuts like steak or chicken is a lot harder to achieve than the texture of ground meat as it requires replicating the complex fibre structure of animal muscle. That’s just what Redefine Meat is setting out to do.
Business Insider spoke with Ben-Shitrit via video call about the technology behind the printing and testing of Redefine Meat’s product, and his plans for bringing 3D-printed steak to mass market.
Business Insider: How long have you been in development?
Ben-Shitrit: We’ve been working on the idea for two and a half years, and the company has been working on R&D for the past two years, but actually nine months ago, we raised serious money for the first time. And we built a team. In just nine months, we grew from six people to 25 people.
When we started, we had the vision, but we didn’t know how to execute the vision. And it took us time to design what experiments we needed to do and what feasibility studies we needed to do. Now we completed all of that. We filed a patent, we proved the core technology, and now we’re fine-tuning it and scaling it up.
People think that 3D printing meat is like a sci-fi idea, that maybe in 10 years would be in the market. And we’re already giving this to people in restaurants.
Business Insider: What are the materials that go into the steak, and what is the process of making it?
Ben-Shitrit: We have built a lot of understanding on what makes meat behave the way it does. We identified that most of the experiences – the texture, the flavour, juiciness, mouthfeel – are from the differences between the fibres of the muscle, the fatty parts, and the moisture.
We take plant protein, like soy and pea, we take fats like coconut fat, we take natural colours and flavours, and instead of mixing them together, we make three separate products. One is the protein component. One is the fat component. One is the blood component.
The 3D printer looks at the 3D model that tells it each voxel – a one-by-one millimetre 3D pixel – what is this voxel going to be? Is it going to be muscle? Is it going to be fat, or is it going to be blood? And what will be the texture?
This is comprised of three million voxels. [At this point in the interview Eshchar held a slab of Redefine’s “meat” up to the camera.] We chose for each one of the boxes in the three-dimensional matrix, what it’s going to be, and what are going to be its properties. With an algorithm, we can make billions of different files automatically. To improve our product, to change the texture, the flavour, the colour, we didn’t need to change our mixes. We just designed hundreds of different models, printed hundreds of different models, and tested them.
Business Insider: What is the plan to bring the product to the market?Ben-Shitrit: During COVID, we reached several agreements with organisations that have an established presence in the meat industry and are looking to introduce alternative meat products. In Israel, it will happen in the coming few months. And the moment we can go back to travel, we will also do it in Europe. During 2021, we’re going to scale up in three European countries: Israel, Switzerland, and Germany.Business Insider: I would love to know what a typical day in the lab looks like for you. Are you constantly just printing different iterations of meat and trying them?
Ben-Shitrit: The team is split basically 50% on the ingredients, on the materials, food technologies and biotechnologies, and 50% on the machine.
We have a chef, and the chef puts in every week the order of meat for that week. He says I need 10 slabs of ribeye for culinary testing. I need 10 slabs of filet for a sensory panel, and we need 10 slabs for the food lab, and then the food lab formulates. In the food lab, we make the formulation and the process. We have the guys over there formulating, taking the cartridges to the printing lab, and printing meat.
We usually have the tasting panel in the morning when we come. We taste what was printed the day before. And we usually have a culinary tasting in the middle of the day.
Business Insider: What’s the speed of the printer?
Ben-Shitrit: The fastest 3D printer we have now prints six kilograms an hour, which is about 13 pounds. And we’re building our new model that will do 22 pounds an hour. But in a good day, it prints 200 pounds, at least. It’s not a manufacturing machine, but we call it a semi-industrial process.
Business Insider: How does the flavour of your product profile compare with beef?
Ben-Shitrit: We try to make it as close as possible. We amplify the meatiness, a little overcompensating for the fact that you need to prove that it tastes like meat. But I think we have a flavour profile that is not only accurate, it’s also delivered to you in the right way. I believe reaching the flavour of meat is not the challenge. Reaching the right mechanism to combine the texture with the flavour, that’s the task.
We have a lot more work to do, because we want it to be the best meat imaginable. And we want it to be representing tenderloin and ribeye, and rump steak, and skirt steak, and picanha, and wagyu beef.
Business Insider: So what is your vision for the next five years, 10 years, for your product?
Ben-Shitrit: We think that technology can become the meat industry of the 21st century. We don’t see a reason for alternative meat companies not to be as big as Tyson, or as big as JBS.
We don’t see a competition with Beyond or Impossible, but we ask ourselves, what is the meat industry? The meat industry is many different animals, many different cuts, many different cultures of food. We want to enable this industry to move to the next level, and we can do it in beef. And we think if we do it right in beef, it can be all over the world.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.