Animal products, particularly meat, have come under fire lately as not being a sustainable solution to long term food supply. There is a growing shift towards plant-based alternatives, and companies who are developing products with the look and feel of meat are catching a lot of interest.
Jet-Eat, winner of the 2018 Startup Innovation Challenge category for Most Innovative Plant-based Finished Product is taking this one step further by using 3D printing with plant based ingredients to create meat-like, juicy steaks. We caught up with Eshchar Ben-Shitrit to find out how this innovative platform works.
Can you pitch your innovation to us in three sentences?
"Meat production and especially beef is a threat to our future. Existing plant-based meat substitutes fail to replicate the complex experience that is meat. We are developing a new production technology that replicates a wide range of properties in meat, delivering the closest possible experience to meat, without harming animals or the planet."
What sparked the initial idea behind Jet-Eat?
"A life-long passion for meat ended suddenly when I realized that for personal reasons, I chose not to eat animals any more. A new passion emerged, driven by the need to enjoy meat once again (especially good steaks on the grill) – and that’s to find the best way to produce meat. I discovered that despite amazing innovation in new ingredients, the food industry lacks new technologies to recreate the complex food product that is meat. I decided to apply the same discipline and methodologies I used in the past to define and work on new technologies, but this time in a place I have true passion for."
Plant-based meat alternatives are very popular at the moment – what sets your product apart?
"Meat is one of the most complex food product out there, yet when coming from animals it’s also quite simple. Grilling a steak to perfection (if you know what you’re doing) is much easier than making a good salad. Plant-based meat alternative is the other way around. They are complex to develop, difficult to manufacture, challenging to cook and ultimately far less exciting compared to the 'real' meat product. We offer a new technology that delivers a superior product, resembling raw meat with the right combination of good texture, amazing flavor and meat-like cooking proprieties. We see our technology as a platform to develop, improve and launch more and more meat substitutes faster."
What about scalability - when will this product become widely available?
"We are currently focused on improving the product from a quality perspective, as costs are already reasonable (the same as beef), once we are ready with a great product (during 2019), we believe scaling up will be quite fast during 2020. We want to be fast in going to the market so we improve our quality based on actual professionals and consumer feedback. We’re already doing that on a limited scale today with chefs, butchers, vegans and meat eaters."
Do you see the move towards plant-based diets as a long-term trend? What is driving this trend?
"I see it as one of the most important trends, and believe we are only seeing the early days of it. The awareness to the challenges in eating meat is growing, because for almost any person, at some point of time in life, it’s a reality that cannot be avoided. For me it happened when I became a father, for some it’s when considering the future of the planet and population growth, for some it’s after visiting the doctor to hear about cholesterol levels. There is no reason to continue to eat meat as we do today, and as plant-based meat becomes better, the trend will accelerate."
How do you plan to develop this technology in future?
"We are not developing just a product. We are creating a technological platform for plant-based meat and building an ecosystem of partners around us. We hope that the platform approach will enable us to come up with more than just beef steak, and to expand to more categories in the near future. We believe that the ecosystem approach and our existing and future partners will also help in having a great product fast, and ease our go-to-market and scale up. In 5 years from now we see our technology all over the world, delivering new categories of plant-based products and later also used to produce hybrid products (plant-based combined with clean meat ingredients)."
As a startup, what has been the biggest challenge in entering this market?
"Being a food technology developing a disruptive technology and product we have many different market opportunities. While developing technology it is absolutely crucial to have a clear end-game in mind. However, in our case we need not only to analyze the market and potential opportunities today, but also how different dynamics will shape the near and long term future. To deal with that we try to look at where and how meat is sold and distributed today, but also to understand how this might change in the coming 3-5 years."
What does winning the Hi Europe Startup Innovation Challenge mean to you?
"We were honored to have this prestigious acknowledgment from the established food industry that what we are doing is not just a vision or a Sci-Fi gimmick – but actually a technology that the food industry believes in and is waiting for."