It’s time for your weekly dose of food tech news! This is when we take a look at some of the stories from the week which intrigued us and put them all in one convenient place.
This week we’ve got stories about lab-grown meat, DIY 3D bioprinter building, and sushi-serving robots. Get yourself a big mug of coffee and settle in for a read.
Lab-grown meat company Wild Type gets a funding boost
Cultured meat company Wild Type raised $3.5 million this week in a seed round led by firm Spark Capital with participation by Root Ventures, Mission Bay Capital, and other investors.
Wild Type is yet another player in the growing field of clean meat, along with startups like Memphis Meats, Mosa Meats, and Supermeat. Startup Finless Foods is also using cellular agriculture to culture fish in a lab, though they’re focused on bluefin tuna while Wild Type is working on salmon.
Wild Type hopes to use its new capital to speed up the development of its cultured salmon, increasing manufacturing capabilities while lowering costs. Their first product will be minced salmon meat intended for use in sushi, but they hope to eventually develop an animal-free lox and salmon filets.
Carnegie Mellon bioprinter could democratize 3D printing
The researchers were able to cut costs by applying a syringe-based large volume extruder onto a standard desktop 3D printer (you have one at home, right?), essentially DIY-ing a 3D bioprinter. Bioprinters typically start at $10K to $20K and can cost up to $200K, but this MacGuyvered one can be built for under $500. It’s also easier to modify than a traditional 3D bioprinter.
Though the CMU team’s original research centers around organ tissue printing for transplants, their instructional abstract notes that these homemade bioprinters can perform “a wide range of 3D printing applications, including bioprinting, embedded printing, and food printing.” As we’ve covered on The Spoon before, 3D food printing is a massively underexplored area of food tech. Maybe these (relatively) affordable bioprinters will change that and make 3D food printing more accessible.
Ramen-serving robots invade Seattle
Plenty USA will launch the new version of their AI-powered, Japan-made robot, dubbed ‘SOTA,’ in Seattle next month. The robot will premiere at JUNKICHI, a robota izakaya restaurant scheduled to open on April 15th in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
SOTA sits atop restaurant tables and uses AI to recognize diners’ faces. It is meant to facilitate communication between customers and servers, though it seems like having a table-bound robot as the middleman would make communication more confusing, if anything. Users can also use the SOTA app to make the robot speak, having guided conversations while they snack on hot pots and grilled meats.
This will be the North American launch for SOTA, but the robot is already a regular fixture at an izakaya restaurant in Japan. (They’e begun their integration into restaurants in America, as well.) According to Market Insider, the restaurant reported a 10% jump in sales since it started using SOTA, and the robot is a popular attraction for dinners. We’ll have to wait and see if it has the same success in an American market.
P.S. Keep an eye out for The Spoon team to make a field trip and interact with these robots ourselves! And eat some sushi, of course.
Beer gets high
For those who hate to choose between their vices, there’s a new product for you. Keith Villa, the inventor of Blue Moon beer has partnered with Ebbu, a company that works with marijuana compounds, to launch a THC-infused, non-alcoholic beer in Colorado this fall. The brew is designed to have the marijuana hit the drinker at the same rate as if they were consuming a beer.
The team plans to develop a wheat beer, a light beer, and a stout. The product will launch in Colorado, but producers want to eventually sell it in all states where marijuana is legal.
Other brewers, such as Lagunitas, have infused beer with CBD, a cannabanoid which does not produce any hallucinatory effects. However, this Colorado-based brew will be the first to incorporate THC, which is what gives marijuana users the trademark “high.” Its success (or lack thereof) will speak to how flexible Americans are willing to get with their cannabis consumption.
SweetGreen harnesses analytics to inform its new menu
Earlier this week, fast-casual salad chain SweetGreen made a major menu chance. At first glance, it seemed that all they had done was tweak their offerings — but it’s the why, not the what, that’s so interesting.
SweetGreen’s menu changes were apparently a direct result of tech-driven insights. The company recently told Bloomberg that they now use blockchain to track their produce, and also to inform their app (which they launched in 2013). Through the app they collect customer analytics to determine which salads to keep, which to introduce, and which to take off their menu, all of which led to their new menu — the first major menu change in 10 years.
This change is an indicator of how fast casual joints, like Eatsa, are integrating tech into their service models to distinguish themselves from the competition. They’re also harnessing platforms like Toast and Ingest.ai to help run restaurant operations for efficiently and increase revenue. Which all goes to say that this restaurant market is one that will likely see a lot of growth and change — in salad toppings and beyond.