Do you dream about a robot-chef that will prepare you a range of different dishes at the touch of a button? And what about an ice-cream machine that creates countless flavors from a capsule in just a minute? The Israeli companies Solato and SavorEat transform scenarios that sounded imaginary into functional devices that will also feature in your kitchen
The Israeli food-tech company Solato was established seven years ago by Barak Beth Halachmi and is dedicated entirely to a single flagship product: a revolutionary and versatile “do it yourself” ice-cream machine that Barak invented. The machine, that is currently intended for the professional and industrial market, operates similarly to a coffee machine that uses capsules and can create fresh ice-cream in a range of flavors in just a minute, as well as frozen yoghurt, sorbet, and iced coffee, according to the selected capsule.
The Ice-cream that is Connected to the Cloud
The company’s founder, Beth Halachmi, served in the IDF for many years. When he left the army, the passion for food led him study Gastronomy in Italy where he fell in love with gelato – the famous Italian ice-cream. After returning to Israel, he founded a small ice-cream factory at Mitzpe Hila in the Galilee but soon realized that this was not the right way to eat ice-cream: “The problem with the ice-cream consumed today is the distance it travels until it reaches the consumer: from the factory to the store, from the store to the shopping cart, from the cart to the trunk of the car, and from there to the home freezer. On the way to our dessert bowl at home, it is repeatedly frozen for transportation, storage, and preservation. Its temperature fluctuates so many times that I’m not even sure it can still be called ice-cream”, claims Beth Halachmi.
It was the insight that it is better to eat fresh ice-cream prepared that moment, exactly like gelato is prepared in Italy, that led Beth Halachmi to develop the machine. Furthermore, Beth Halachmi also discovered how harmful to the environment preparing ice-cream was – an issue to which Solato attributes great importance. Preparing ice-cream wastes high levels of energy because the repeated freezing of the product leads to the transportation of 40% frozen air. Solato’s machine saves 95% of the energy involved in this process. The unique technology also enables to add 40% less sugar to all the ice-creams without noticeably affecting the product because the temperature and the texture are identical, so it also saves calories.
“The capsules allow us to produce countless flavors”, emphasizes Lisa Mendelson, the company’s CMO and Director of its US operations. The machine is extremely simple to operate: you choose a capsule, and the machine reads the code stamped on the capsule and understands what to do in order to transform the specific mix it contains into ice-cream with the ideal texture and temperature. Using a tiny cooling unit, diverse sensors, and advanced logic, the machine simulates the operation of a manual machine and produces ice-cream within 60 seconds. Although the machine is simple to operate and user-friendly, Solato has over 60 patents for the parts that comprise it.
The technology is complex and nuanced. For example, the machine can be instructed not to sell a capsule that contains nuts, other allergens, or milk. “The machine is connected to the cloud”, says Mendelson, “so we know exactly where in the world each machine is, how many and what flavors have been consumed each day”.
The Technology Does all the Work
Solato is presently negotiating with major chains and important people in the US food industry and its sophisticated ice-cream machines can be found in the most prestigious offices such as American Express, World Trade Center, McKinsey & Co., Barclays Center, Madison Square Garden, and others.
The company’s current target audience is corporations, hotels etc. The United States currently constitutes the company’s primary market, and the goal is to conquer it within two-three years.
As Mendelson explains: “the idea is to create a lifestyle brand that embodies all the values we believe in – freshness, quality, sustainability, natural ingredients, and ease of use”.
Dreaming of a Robot-Chef
Eight years ago, Racheli Vizman – co-founder and CEO of SavorEat – underwent a medical episode that forced her to contend with a very strict dietary regimen: no sugar, no salt, no fat, and an abundance of other restrictions. “I was constantly hungry! And I really wanted to eat something tasty without worrying about what I was putting into my body or thinking about my medical condition”, she says. “I am a chemical and biotechnology engineer by training but when I entered the supermarket, even I couldn’t understand exactly what was written on the food labels”.
The weakness and frustration led Vizman to pause temporarily and contemplate the ways food influences our health: “When I became increasingly interested in the world of food, I had a revelation”, she says, “that the ultimate solution would be a machine on which I could simply press a couple of buttons and choose which ingredients to use or not to use, so that it would prepare the exact dish I want and which suits me and my dietary limitations.
I had no idea then if such a solution or one like it even existed, and how it could be developed technologically. I was amazed during my research to learn that there was no such solution, but everyone I talked to about it claimed that it couldn’t be done. Nevertheless, the idea persisted, and so I began to study the world of food and discovered a whole new area. I come from worlds immersed in innovation and technology, and I couldn’t understand how no large food or technology company had yet developed such a machine, even though it was possible”.
As an entrepreneur, this novel challenge constituted a springboard for success. Vizman, who then lived in the US, had no idea as to how to advance her innovative idea, and began to make use of her connections. She was introduced to Prof. Oded Shoseyov who was engaged in a study of food and food technology at the Hebrew University’s Faculty of Agriculture. “When he told me what he had developed, I understood that this could be the solution for some of the challenges that my idea poses. Together, we developed a new concept of the idea based on his study and, in 2018, SavorEat was born. We established the company together with another partner, Prof. Ido Braslavsky”.
A Dish Prepared Digitally by a Robot
During the years since its establishment, SavorEat has developed an innovative technological platform that enables to produce a range of delicious dishes from meat substitutes that are based on the company’s formulation and plant protein, while emphasizing several challenges and needs, of both the food market and the end consumer. The dishes are prepared, within minutes, by a robot in a manner that is personally tailored to the consumer’s preferences, and all at the click of a button. The smart robotic system uses patent-protected 3D technologies and advanced digital cooking methods.
“When I initially told people that I wanted to develop a robot to print different kinds of high-quality food for the consumer, they thought it was impossible”, Vizman says. “Potential investors weren’t enthusiastic about signing up, but the Innovation Authority understood the significance and loved the idea. Their seal of approval was the impetus that helped us embark on the journey. I don’t know if we would have achieved what we have without the Authority”.
SavorEat does not pretend to do things in the accepted way. It merges the worlds of digitalization, food, and consumerism and aspires to lead the same revolution in the food market that digitalization has generated in other markets.
So, how does it work? Using a simple app, the client defines his dish, starting with its size, and including the degree of juiciness and personalization of the dish’s nutritional value such as the level of protein or fat. With cloud technology, the app transmits the specific order to the robot which then creates the dish using capsules that contain SavorEat’s unique formulation. The product is served ready to eat in less than five minutes. The automation provides a solution not only to the consumer’s needs or to communication problems between the diner and the business but also offers answers to the numerous critical challenges facing the food industry which has a constant need for workers. These challenges include supply chain problems, compliance with food safety regulations, depreciation, and providing a solution to the increasing demand for products from plant protein.
At the click of a client’s mouse, SavorEat creates a huge amount of data and, because everything is encoded, a client who orders a specific dish will always receive the same flavor, color, and experience anywhere in the world. This guarantees a satisfied customer every time. SavorEat creates not only a sustainable product but also a solution for the food industry while, at the same time, offering a unique and personalized experience – a field that, until now, has yet to receive a genuine response in the food market, in contrast to other markets that have undergone a digital transformation. “The ability to create a large amount of data and the innovative processes we have developed make us a multidisciplinary company”, Vizman says.
“We are exactly what it sounds like – a food-tech company – we develop a food product but, no less important, technology. And the beauty in my eyes is to know how to use things that already exist in other markets and not to invent everything from scratch. So, to create a good solution for all the challenges we contend with, we use what we have, with a digital and automated twist. Although we already have a working solution, we are always working on the next development – from new products to better technology. For example, the new generation of robot that we have just finished developing, can prepare dishes much faster and produce more than sixty dishes an hour”, Vizman explains.
From a regulatory perspective, because the company uses raw materials that are approved as food and does not create new material, it easily complies with the requirements. “We meet all the regulatory criteria – from safety testing, sanitization etc. Our challenge lies elsewhere – in integration i.e., how to use the composition of the food in a bag to create edible food with the proper texture, correct temperature, and with the required basic experience”, Vizman explains.
The ability to combine all the different elements of food, mechanics, and software constitutes a tremendous challenge. The end-product must ultimately be small, low-cost, have an attractive design, and be able to supply large dishes and an abundance of culinary possibilities. But none of this bothers Vizman who has transformed dream into reality.
SavorEat is presently in the marketing and commercialization stages while continuing development, after successfully achieving proof of feasibility. The company has already signed several marketing agreements such as an agreement with the world’s third largest company – Sodexo – that will begin marketing SavorEat’s products on the American market by the end of the year. “We are now in the transition from small-scale to large-scale development and hope to make the move to commercial operation in 2023”, Vizman says. SavorEat, that is traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, is the only food-tech company in Israel to have issued an IPO. Furthermore, the company is presently undergoing a rapid growth process while continuing collaboration with the Innovation Authority and receiving its support.
Vizman aspires to bring the company to a digital state of the art level. The worlds of Artificial Intelligence are leading the way and technological development is one of the company’s products but ultimately, it is a platform on which other content and products can be assembled in the future. “Just like Netflix, SavorEat is a platform that provides consumers with access to products”, she concludes.
Israel as a Food-Tech Power
“The food-tech industry is increasingly maturing in many areas, but still needs to adapt itself to the world in which our children live”, Vizman says. “The world is becoming digital, and I want to connect the food-tech industry to this world. In order to eat healthier, we will expand the world of possibilities and try and prevent diseases. All the companies I have been involved in during my years in the industry make sure to protect both the environment and health and, in this respect, SavorEat is no different.
Based on SavorEat’s technology, Vizman established another company – Egg’n’up that supplies egg substitutes to the food markets. Eggs have versatile solutions – they have a perfect yolk, stabilizing qualities, and change texture when heated – and here too, the company received support from the Innovation Authority. Egg’n’up offers the industry clean, healthy, plant solutions without any byproducts.
“I am happy to see the maturation of more and more companies and people in food-tech, and the mutual assistance between entrepreneurs in the field. However, there is still a lack of infrastructures and gaps to overcome. There is also a need for investment in the transition from development to production”, says Vizman who adds that “entrepreneurs excel at dreaming big and turning ideas into development, but it is important to support and strengthen the stages of the process until achieving the product’s global distribution. Investment in infrastructure will help companies reach the market much quicker and the existing knowledge in Israel must be harnessed to this objective. Israeli industry is very developed, and it is important to transform its advantages into an infrastructure for the food industry.
“The trend already exists. I can detect a meteoric change and great admiration of Israel as a food-tech power in recent years. I am very excited to see my colleagues’ success around the world. We have a lot of potential and I am very proud to be an Israeli entrepreneur. I can’t actually see myself doing anything else. I have always been involved in crazy startups. When people say that I’m crazy, I know I’m doing something right”.