3D printing, or additive manufacturing, has expanded beyond plastics, metal, and makeup to shake up the food industry. Cue the entrance of 3D food printers, which deposit layers of edible powders or pastes until the desired object is constructed.
Foodini in a Nutshell
In 2014, Natural Machines introduced the “Foodini” 3D printer which uses stainless steel capsules to print a range of savory and sweet dishes.1 Consumers choose a recipe from the Foodini’s touchscreen or their own device, insert the required ingredient capsules, and let the Foodini produce dishes such as chocolate, pizza, and burgers. Printed food can be eaten immediately – if it’s pre-cooked or consumable raw– or cooked further. It is particularly useful in creating complex designs (e.g., cake decorations), recipes that require precision and dexterity (e.g., filled pasta), and repetitive tasks (e.g., breadsticks).
3D food printers create meals on-demand precisely and quickly, with less waste than traditional cooking methods. Because the appliance is connected to the internet, recipes and designs can be uploaded, shared, and applied seamlessly. As an ‘Internet of Things’ device, the portable Foodini could be connected to other ‘smart’ devices in the future, such as smart refrigerators or Fitbits, to enable greater customization and automatization.2
While this technology is still developing, there are many use cases of the Foodini. At $2,000, the Foodini is currently used by high-end kitchens and restaurants, with the goal of becoming a common household appliance.3 In Spain, acclaimed chef Paco Perez is using the Foodini to create “sea coral,” a seafood puree in an elaborate design that would be difficult to create by hand.4 A German retirement home is using 3D printers to create nutritious meals for seniors with chewing and swallowing difficulties.5
Beyond restaurants, the Foodini could play a role in reducing the amount of chemical additives in food and preventing overconsumption. It could print alternative protein sources, such as algae and insects (s/o to Jared), to reduce global consumption of meat. Food printers could enable customization of macronutrients, as consumers will be able to tailor the precise amount of protein, carbohydrates, and other vitamins in their meals.6 For those with medical conditions, that could mean linking the printer with specific dietary needs (e.g., gluten-free, diabetic, low-fat) and printing specialized meals.
An obstacle the Foodini will have to overcome is consumer fear of eating 3D printed food. Fortunately, there is hope for the Foodini, as consumers were once afraid of the microwave when it was first introduced, and it has since become a household staple.7 While food printers can be used for chocolate and dough, more complex products such as meat will be hard-pressed to achieve the right texture and flavor. 3D printing can be a time-consuming process, since designs require successive layers of ingredients, which may lead to long cycle times.10 Further research will likely help the Foodini overcome these potential issues.
The Foodini will also require shifts in the supply chain, as consumers will have to purchase capsules of pastes or powders rather than traditional raw ingredients. Consumers may have to find new suppliers and distributors of ingredients, which may not be readily available now.8 Natural Machines is already collaborating with food manufacturers to create pre-packaged capsules that can be inserted into the Foodini.9
Natural Machines should focus on expanding the market for 3D food printers by partnering with key stakeholders in the food and health industry. Currently the Foodini is a novelty and used to create niche products like “sea coral.” To be commercially successful, Natural Machines will need to expand their partnerships with food manufacturers to create capsules that are everyday meals (e.g., dinner for two). Given how successful meal kits and pre-packaged foods are today, the Foodini could be a natural vehicle for delivering easy-to-assemble, quick meals.
To encourage consumer trial of 3D printed food, Natural Machines should partner with grocery stores, such as Whole Foods, and set up tasting stations. Not only would grocery stores demonstrate that 3D printed foods are delicious, these stores could also sell 3D printers and food cartridges.
As food allergies and sensitivities are becoming increasingly common, the Foodini could help consumers create specialized meals. Health nuts will find value in using the Foodini to customize nutrients and specify caloric intake. Syncing data with health companies like Fitbit would create an ecosystem that enables people to achieve their individual wellness goals.
Finally, 3D printing technology continues to evolve each day, and Natural Machines should further collaborate with others in the space. Modern Meadow, a company that just raised $10M to research printable biomaterials, could be a partner to bring new innovative products to market.11 The Foodini holds a lot of promise in the food industry, though it will take time for it to be as ubiquitous as the microwave.
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1 Jacopo Prisco, “’Foodini’ machine lets you print edible burgers, pizza, chocolate,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/06/tech/innovation/foodini-machine-print-food/, accessed November 2016.
2 Sidney Fussell, “This company is creating incredible 3D printed food you can eat,” Business Insider, http://www.businessinsider.com/3d-printed-food-foodini-2016-4/#kucsma-sees-foodini-as-the-future-of-the-smart-kitchen-5, accessed November 2016.
4 Neil Koenig, “How 3D printing is shaking up high end dining,” CNN, http://www.bbc.com/news/business-35631265, accessed November 2016.
5 Bianca Botero-Murphy, “Can 3D printing help us to eat healthier?”, Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com/bluesky/hub/ct-us-chamber-3d-printing-healthier-eating-bsi-hub-20160128-story.html, accessed November 2016.
6 Kyle Wiggers, “Why 3D food printing is more than just a novelty — it’s the future of food,” Digital Trends, http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/3d-food-printers-how-they-could-change-what-you-eat/#ixzz4Q33E2J9Q, accessed November 2016.
7 Matt McCue, “Will 3D printed food become as common as the microwave?,” Fortune, http://fortune.com/2015/02/26/3d-food-printing/, accessed November 2016.
8 Hans Thalbauer, “Why 3D Printed Food Just Transformed Your Supply Chain,” Digitalist Magazine, http://www.digitalistmag.com/digital-supply-networks/2016/03/10/why-3d-printed-food-transformed-supply-chain-04057133, accessed November 2016.
9 Jacopo Prisco, “’Foodini’ machine lets you print edible burgers, pizza, chocolate,” CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/06/tech/innovation/foodini-machine-print-food/, accessed November 2016.
10 Kyle Wiggers, “Why 3D food printing is more than just a novelty — it’s the future of food,” Digital Trends, http://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/3d-food-printers-how-they-could-change-what-you-eat/#ixzz4Q33E2J9Q, accessed November 2016.