Javier I. Zaratiegui – CTO & Partner of Cocuus.
We had the opportunity to interview Javier I. Zaratiegui, the CTO & Partner of Cocuus, a Spanish food tech company that develops industrial solutions for the production of plant- or cell-based animal protein analogs (mimetic food) using 2D/3D laser printing, bioprinting, and robotics.
The company has just won the international Quality Innovation Award (QIA) in the category of Innovation in Microenterprises and Startups.
Find out all about his experience in the Eatable Adventures Acceleration Program, and some of his secrets as you read on.
1. What is the future potential of 3D food printing according to your vision?
Regardless of which technology is used to create a “new” food, the important point to us is its background and potential.
There are two sides to this equation, on one hand, current methods have a carbon footprint that needs to be reduced, and on the other hand, the technology will help us create better foods, by balancing nutrients or encapsulating them, which results in products that are more sustainable for the environment and healthier for our bodies.
Cocuus uses 3D printing, extrusion, thermoformed molds, laser cutting, food ink printing, and a lot of ingenuity and creativity. In recent years, new technologies for food manufacturing are making their way into the food industry. Unsurprisingly, this coincides with the time when extensive research into alternative proteins is bearing fruit.
Today, new manufacturing techniques can and ought to be used to develop these new proteins into new products, taking into consideration fermentation, mycelium, insect proteins, algae, and even cells grown in laboratories and multiplied in bioreactors. This is already a reality and provides consumers with more choices.
2. How have Eatable Adventures helped Cocuus achieve its goals?
Eatable Adventures has been a turning point in our roadmap. Among other things, it inspired us to change the mentality necessary for our startup to transform into a business. At the very beginning, we saw that our knowledge was very focused on creating machines, and Eatable Adventures showed the potential we could have if those machines were directed toward solving the problems of large food industries. It was a before and after.
Before we met Eatable Adventures, we were also making technologies but focused on chefs, restaurants, catering companies, and events, among others. We provided our clients with tools to create new dishes, decorate or combine them with technology to impress their guests. That’s how we began, with laser cutting machines, printing, and food ink.
3. What is the most valuable piece of advice José Luis has given you during our Acceleration Program?
We have had some memorable moments with José Luis. Perhaps the best one was when he “challenged” us to manufacture a machine that could be able to make large parts (whole cuts) since that was what the industry demanded.
Saying to someone from the Navarra region like Patxi Larumbe “I bet you can’t make a printed cutlet…” meant to set the flame to this project. As a result, a new chapter began in this whole acceleration process: large corporations, large international investment funds, and also many media outlets started to contact us. José Luis has been very helpful to us in facing this whole process, which was completely new for us, and he has provided us with knowledge about his perspective and experience before making some important decisions.
4. What is your vision for Cocuus in the short, medium, and long term?
“Focus Cocuus. In the short term, we are focusing on a few projects before tackling other bigger challenges. We know there is a lot of competition in our field and we want to finish our machines in the short term and test their robustness and reliability before offering them to new customers. The same goes for us in international markets. We hope to learn and resolve any necessary adjustments to these first pilot lines on the mainland and later jump into Asia as well as America and Europe, in all three areas at the same time. For this, we must strengthen some departments of the company and continue with the contacts we have been making to understand what each of these markets demands. We don’t go in with a solution or a product and look for someone to buy it from us; what we do is find out what our customer needs and then offer him an adapted solution. It’s the same for us to make a shrimp machine or a steak machine. What we are very clear about is that we only take on large production projects. We have already left behind the projects for a few restaurants, now we are targeting large manufacturers or distributors in the food industry.
In the medium term, when all the projects are already on the market, we will then be able to assess which ones are more interesting for the company. With each step, we learn and evaluate what the next step will be. At the beginning, we made salmon from bio-gels and food dyes, although we were told that there would be more marketable if we made tuna or shrimp. Because of this lack of market knowledge, what we decided to do and continue doing is to let ourselves be advised by experts like Eatable Adventures, and shift when we decide to do so.
In the long term, I don’t know what we will do at Cocuus. What is clear to me is that the future of cell reproduction will be marked by factories that produce mass quantities of cells in short periods of time by just passing through bioreactors. There is where Cocuus wants to be, making these technologies to convert those cells into final products. At least today, we don’t contemplate making final products for the consumer; our focus is exclusively on developing machines and technologies for others. We are happy with what we do, but the door is always open to a “Refocus Cocuus”.