A Rare Opportunity: 3D Printed Meat Enters the Food Supply Chain

The public’s cravings for plant-based meats get stronger every year. In the next half decade, the value for global meat substitutes is projected to reach $8.1 billion. While faux shredded meat for burgers and meatballs has sparked lots of attention from diners and Wall Street, Redefine Meat is taking an alternative approach to developing alt-meat steaks with an intelligent 3D printer.  

 

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Image credit: Redefine Meats

As the number of vegetarians in the world climbs each year, so does the interest in plant-based alternatives to beef, chicken, and pork. Impossible Burger rocketed into the food world in 2019, achieving cult-like status with home cooks, fast food eaters, and Wall Street. While many food lovers crave a good, juicy burger, Redefine Meats is appealing to steak fans with its 3D printed facsimiles of beef whole cuts.

Looking ahead, the Israeli-based company wants to move its 3D printing technology into meat distributors around the globe and become a viable part of the meat supply chain. The whole cut meats space has fewer meat alternatives right now than the shredded meat market—and the potential for larger profit. Within the meat industry, the margins for whole-animal cuts like steaks are much higher than margins for ground beef or pork. First, though, the company has to perfect its faux meat techniques.

Fat and blood "ink" for printed meat

Image credit: Redefine Meats

Redefine Meats produces animal-free meat with a similar appearance, texture, and flavor of animal meat from natural and sustainable ingredients. The ingredients are relatively simple: three plant protein sources, fat, and water. What’s especially innovative is the technology, which combines 3D meat modeling, food formulation, and food printing on a custom-made stainless steel 3D printer.   

In an interview with Forbes, Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, Redefine Meat’s CEO said his company’s technology “mimics the real thing, including muscle, pockets of fat, and moisture that help release flavors when you bite.”

New Ink for a Different Kind of Printer

To create that familiar meaty taste, the company built its own 3D stainless steel printer, and it has mechanical engineers working alongside food scientists to create its plant-based products. The two groups have developed a plant-based “ink” that can print the meat with muscle and fat layers to get the desired meat-like texture. The ink substrate is made of proteins from legumes and grains to create the muscle texture of alternative meat. Fats from plants mimic the beef fat, and natural flavors and colors mimic blood and meat juiciness.

In 2019, the company announced goals to sell a combination of industrial-level 3D printers, cartridges, and its meat substitute materials to meat distributors around the globe. The vision is that meat distributors would print the faux meat and offer it as a separate product, alongside its real meat offerings. To reach this end game, Redefine is improving its machines to speed production. The current version, for example, produces 13 pounds of meat per hour, and the next release is expected to produce 44 pounds an hour.

 

The Sizzlin’ Hot 3D Printing Market

Redefine Meats isn’t the only company printing steaks. Spain startup Novameat is working on steaks and pork cuts. Across the meat manufacturing supply chain, established companies and startups are looking at ways to introduce faux meat options into the ecosystem. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have raised awareness for their popular meatless products, and Tyson Foods and Nestle are developing options for people wanting to eat less meat and reduce their carbon footprint.

On the quick-serve restaurant side, KFC has already introduced a plant-based chicken with Beyond Meat, and it has announced plans for a 3D chicken nugget. KFC is working with 3D Bioprinting Solutions to combine chicken cells and plant materials to print customer-favorite nuggets. Burger King has also found incredible success with its Impossible Whopper, another plant-based burger.

With so much interest in plant-based meats, Redefine Meats and its competitors are securing large sums of money from investors. In February, Redefine Meats announced that it had raised $29 million in funding to expand the company’s range of products, support a commercial launch in 2021, and complete its large-scale pilot line production facility for its 3D meat printers.

If everything goes as planned, more food options will appear at our grocer and favorite restaurants. For integrators, selling and installing new 3D meat printers at meat packing houses and meat distributors could be a niche opportunity that no one imagined 18 months ago.

  • Watch a chef taste test and cook with Redefine Meat’s faux meat.
  • Learn more about Redefine Meat’s plans for plant-based meats.

 

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