“We are creating the future generation of meat alternatives” – Redefine Meat
Andy Coyne speaks to Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, CEO and co-founder of Israel's Redefine Meat, which makes plant-based meat alternatives using a 3D printing process, to gauge its prospects for success in creating a scalable product.
Redefine Meat is a plant-based firm with a difference – it manufacturers alt-meat products using a 3D printing process.
The Israel-based company has created equipment that allows it to create finished food – from minced-meat to whole cuts such as steak – by 'additive manufacturing', the atom-by-atom or ingredient-by-ingredient layering of an object based on a digital file.
Still in its infancy – the business was founded in 2018 – Redefine Meat has attracted the attention of investors and food businesses and has secured financial backing in two swathes: a $6m funding round in September 2019 and a $29m round in February this year.
The company has invested in R&D and brought in further expertise – most recently including digital printing specialist Alon Bar-Shany as executive chairman – and it is now preparing for its global commercial launch and distribution plan.
Redefine Meat has a stated ambition of becoming a global market leader, with thousands of employees and more than 10,000 customers, and replacing animals with technological alternatives.
Andy Coyne: You received your first round of investment from Germany's largest poultry company PHW-Gruppe and investment firms including CPT Capital and Hanaco Ventures in late 2019 – and then Covid-19 struck. Have your plans been curtailed by the pandemic?
Eshchar Ben-Shitrit: No. The company accelerated even during Covid-19. Hospitality and restaurants here [in Israel] are booming. It is a good time to do what we are doing. Progress has been better and faster than anticipated and we are in a good position.
What has the investment attracted so far allowed you to do?
We had put together a plan but it was based on a small team and limited capabilities. Following the [first] investment we were able to increase the team, become a tech company that was deep into these processes and the result was to get the tech to a stage where it was quite scalable.
We were also able to bring in the best food engineers and bio-technologists and [because of Covid-19] the best chefs became available.
We finished 2019 with nine people and it was up to 35 at the end of 2020. We are now around 60.
Do your investors seek to be involved in what you are doing?
Impact investors don't want to go deep into the technology as this is not the expertise they have. They provide advice and access to things. They advise you to think bigger. They want to see that the risk is low.
They know what we are doing is complicated and want to see how our potential can become even bigger. Clearly this market [could be] huge but the technology needs to be scalable. Investors want to be able to help us turn it into reality.
Earlier this year, you carried out a blind taste-testing exercise of your products, including a 3D-printed 'Alt-Steak', during which 600 people bought almost 1,000 plates of your 'meat' from a food truck. How important was this initiative?
It is a pivotal moment when you got feedback to say the product is very tasty. It was exposed to professionals such as chefs and people in the meat industry and they reacted positively but we also wanted to expose it to consumers on mass in restaurants. Because of Covid-19 we crammed everything into a food truck [instead].
What is in your alt-meat products? Or is that a secret?
The only secret is the way we use the ingredients. Peas and soy are the main contributors, with natural flavours and colours.
You have developed a manufacturing solution that "combines a proprietary semi-industrial 3D digital printing platform, a 3D meat modelling system, and plant-based food formulations". How long does it take to make a steak from start to finish using your technology?
There are two steps. One is the preparation of the product. We can do that in bulk, like mixing a cake, and then there is the printing which is the slow part – the bottleneck. But it's not that slow. We have two printers and they can product 2kg an hour. That's 40 steaks per printer, so 80 steaks if both printers are used.
Now we are scaling up the number of machines to make it faster and more automated.
These machines aren't made for us. Everything is developed and built by us.
Alongside your blind taste-testing, you announced Redefine Meat had signed an agreement with locally-based distributor Best Meister to help commercialise your products. How is that developing?
Best Meister have believed in us since the early days. But not only are they a supporter, they know the meat market. They have the expertise to deliver to foodservice and butchers' shops. You need that expertise when you are looking to scale up the supply chain.
Has Best Meister started its distribution programme yet?
Officially it will be happening over the next few months with restaurants and we will be supporting this with events.
These will be branded products with different partners in each country. There is no category so we will be the category.
What are your international plans?
Israel's market is quite small but has adopted plant-based meat more than most countries. It is important to us to be exposed to different cultures around the world.
Very soon we will take what we have done in Israel and do that in two European markets and one Asian market this year. The US will come, but not this year. We want to find a synergy in each specific country.
The potential for each country is slightly different. In Israel, the products are kosher, which is less relevant in many other parts of the world. But there may be different ways of cooking and slicing meat.
You've mentioned in the past having machines in customers' facilities. Is that still the ambition?
We need to look not just at the tech but at optimising the supply chain. We don't want to ship our product across the world. It needs to be next to our customers.
You are not the only company involved in the 3D-printing of food. Do you worry about the competition?
We see companies who work in plant-based meat as partners. We are leading in this area, but we can learn from other companies.
What we are doing is creating the future generation of plant-based meat alternatives. But we haven't seen much competition.
Main image: Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, CEO and co-founder of Redefine Meat. Credit: Redefine Meat