When we last spoke with Revo Foods just a year ago, CEO Robin Simsa boldly stated that, in five years, “Revo will be the leading provider of plant-based seafood in the world”.
Since then, the young Austrian team has famously gone on to launch its mycoprotein-based salmon filet into REWE’s flagship vegan superstore, the 200-metre square Billa Pflanzilla, marking the first-ever 3D-printed product to be available in supermarkets worldwide and receiving huge amounts of international attention.
As Revo works to scale up production in three distinct steps, with the second step set to conclude next year, it will gain capabilities to produce far higher volumes and roll out the product into multiple locations. Exciting times for Austria and for the food industry, as Robin explains in detail in our latest chat.
Congratulations on the successful launch of your 3D-printed mycoprotein-based salmon filet at Billa Pflanzilla! Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this innovative product and what sets it apart from your other plant-based seafood alternatives?
During more than three years of R&D, we developed a completely new production machinery that allows us to produce meat/seafood alternatives with completely new functionality. For example, it was not possible before to precisely control the distribution of plant-based fat and protein ingredients in the final product, according to a realistic design. In this new approach however, we can create a fine model of a product such as a salmon filet, and our new 3D printing approach allows the integration of the fat component directly into the protein matrix, leading to a much more realistic behavior in terms of cooking or mouthfeel during eating.
Also, during cooking, the fat does not leave the product as quickly as in other products where the fat component is added in terms of fat particles that easily melt out of the product, leading to a more juicy product in our case overall.
Another attractive point is that depending on the kinematics of the production machine and the extrusion system, the final texture of the product changes. For example, if the layers of protein material are extruded in a parallel way or a counter-parallel way has a huge effect on the final texture parameters of the product, and finetuning these kinematics allows us to make our products much more heterogeneous, complex, or in other words, “real”, as you would expect from a piece of animal meat.
What challenges did you encounter when perfecting the mycoprotein specifically for 3D printing, and how did you overcome them?
We have an ongoing partnership with Swedish Mycoprotein producer Mycorena to develop a novel mycoprotein that supports fiber formation during the 3D extrusion process. A challenge was that mycoprotein is inherently fibrous, and we needed to not destroy this fibrousness during our 3D extrusion process. Through lots of trial and error and a newly developed pre-processing step which involves thermal shear activation, we achieved our first goal of producing a fibrous salmon alternative. We are not done with our development though, and our products will improve tremendously over time with more development.
The launch at Billa Pflanzilla is a significant milestone. Can you share your plans for expanding the availability of your 3D-printed seafood products to other retailers or markets in the near future?
The launch of “THE FILET – Inspired by Salmon” was a significant milestone for the whole meat alternative industry, as it showed people that this new 3D extrusion technology is not a far-fetched dream, but a reality that you can already buy in supermarkets.
It was also an important step for us, as we received multiple requests from retailers across Europe that expressed their interest in listing THE FILET in different countries, as well as a lot of positive feedback from consumers, which shows us that we are on the right track. The first version of THE FILET is planned as a limited edition, while we are currently fully focused on our next upscaling steps, as by mid-next year we already want to supply tens of thousands of FILETS to retailers all across Europe.
Beyond the initial launch, how do you envision the upscaling potential of 3D food printing for industrial purposes in the plant-based seafood industry?
We strongly believe in the upscaling potential, otherwise we would not do it! People are often turned off simply by the name of “3D Food Printing”, which often has the stigma of being small machines that take hours to produce a single product.
“…by mid-next year we already want to supply tens of thousands of FILETS to retailers all across Europe”
However, the whole industry of additive manufacturing has evolved tremendously over the past years, and our process has a much more industrial setup than most people usually imagine. It can be compared to big dosing machines which are currently used for mass production of chocolate, snacks or products containing sauces, the only difference with our machines is that they have 3D kinematics and allow the integration of two different materials into a final product. Possibly, a different name than 3D food printing needs to be established in the future, as the current name does not imply these mass production technologies that have been implemented in our latest developments.
Can you give us some insights into the consumer response and feedback you’ve received so far regarding your 3D-printed salmon filet?
We have received a lot of great feedback from consumers who enjoyed the taste and presentation of THE FILET very much, as well as the idea of eating something so innovative produced with a completely new production method. Of course, there were also customers who commented on points which we can improve in the future, as tastes always differ. We are ourselves well aware of many aspects of the product which we will improve in the 2.0 version (coming out in 2024), and are constantly working on improving all aspects of the product, so every constructive feedback is very helpful for us to keep innovating on both the production process and the product formulation.
How do you perceive the current plant-based market and its current situation? In your opinion, how does the European market differ from others, and do you perceive a robust consumer demand in EU markets for PB foods?
I believe that a lot of products out there need to taste better to convince more consumers. However, we should not forget that this is a very high-tech development field, as both food tech and hardware tech are developments that can take several years, and taking this into consideration it is incredible how much this industry has innovated in recent years.
I hope that the general public as well as capital markets have realistic expectations and do not expect a hyper-growth of consumer adaptation which is more common in some software startups, however tech startups that develop physical products have a longer timeline to really innovate and build something of value, which I hope will continue, with more realistic expectations.
“This field is too important to be treated as a ‘hype topic'”
This field is too important to be treated as a ‘hype topic’ and needs to be constantly worked on and improved over the next decades if we are really serious about reducing our impact on the environment.
What additional plant-based seafood products or innovations can we expect from REVO Foods in the coming years, and how will 3D printing play a role in these developments?
We have a lot of different products in the pipeline, but unfortunately, I cannot reveal too much information at the moment. Just keep your eyes open for the end of this year/early next year on our social media channels and you might see some interesting new things there!