Photo: Novameat

At the Good Food Conference in San Francisco last week, Novameat, a Spanish startup developing meat alternatives through 3D printing, announced it had raised an undisclosed amount of funding from New Crop Capital.

Novameat uses patented 3D-printing technology to “print” plant-based meat with the same fibrous texture of the real thing. According to founder Giuseppe Scionti, whom I talked to, the company’s special 3D printer uses syringes filled with plant protein to extrude cuts of meat that mimic the muscles of animal tissue. He said the company will use the new funding to do more demonstrations of his 3D printed steak, scale up the technology, grow his team of four, and expand beyond Europe.

Extrusion is how most plant-based meat companies make vegan protein look like real chicken nuggets, tuna chunks, etc. But Scionti told me that his machine is unique since it can make whole cuts of muscle, such as a steak or chicken breast. He also said that they could better imitate meat texture since 3D printing allows for micro extrusion on a large scale. “If you want to get material like beefsteak you want to control both micro texture and macro texture,” he told me. So instead of extruding out a piece of protein that is meant to be a whole chicken nugget, he can print out individual lines that look and chew like the network of muscle fibers that make up a large cut of meat.

Novameat’s technology also opens up possibilities for novel ingredients. Scionti doesn’t want to use wheat or soy in his printed meats for environmental reasons, and also because he said their texture isn’t quite as meat-like. His 3D printer apparently adapts to a wider range of plant proteins, such as pea (a favorite of Beyond Meat), which can be combined to take on the unique texture of almost any cut of meat.

Instead of creating his own line of branded products, Novemeat will employ a meaty SaaS model by licensing out the technology to plant-based meat manufacturers. In addition to the 3D printer itself, his team will also work with individual partners to develop the optimal “recipe” of proteins to create their ideal meat substitute.

Scionti even told me he’s envisioning partnerships with high-end restaurants. He would rent them the machine, likely for a low cost, and provide them Nespresso-like capsules they could use to print their own custom cuts of “meat.”

Novameat hopes to bring its technology to restaurants and retail (through partners) within 5 years or so. As of now its 3D printed steaks still haven’t been put to a public taste test, so it’s too early to say if their technology will truly, as Scionti is hoping, usher in a new wave of more realistic whole cuts of meat. But if successful, it could open the door to an entirely new segment of plant-based meat products, such as whole T-bone steaks or pork chops.

However, Novameat could have some competition. In Israel, Redefine Meat is also using 3D printing to make vegan cuts of meat, including beef. They’re not using 3D printing, but Impossible Foods is also tackling plant-based steak. And new scaffolding technologies, such as the mushroom root-based ones from Atlast Food, are hoping to make it easier for meat alternative companies to make complicated cuts of meat like chicken breast and bacon.

Of course, with the soaring popularity of alternative meat right now, it likely won’t be a zero-sum game for whole plant-based cuts of meat — especially if Novameat’s 3D printing technology is really as innovative as Scionti claims.

But all bets could be off when cell-based meat, which re-creates animal tissue in the lab, comes to market. For example, Israeli startup Aleph Farms is developing cultured steak meant to taste and chew exactly like the real thing because it’s made of actual animal cells.

Then again, cultured meat is a ways from hitting the market, and even further away from creating whole, thick cuts of meat (right now Aleph Farms’ steak is only the thickness and size of a credit card). Which means that plant-based options like Novameat have a while to put their stake (er, steak) in the meat alternative space before competition becomes too fierce.

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