Imagine preparing ingredients in a capsule, choosing a digital design, and watching a device create food shapes which can be stacked together to become a 3-D creation. This is a reality thanks to the Foodini, a 3-D food printer produced by Natural Machines. According to BIS Research, 3-D food printing is expected to reach $525.6M by 2023, growing at a CAGR of 46.1% in the next five years.1 Will these printers become the next household kitchen device?
Natural Machines, a Barcelona-based startup, originally started from the desire to reduce the costs of central food manufacturing and distribution by creating a mini-manufacturing kitchen appliance that can exist in multiple locations.2 In addition to the accessibility of the device, the 3-D printing process itself can optimize labor resources. Paco Pérez, an executive chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant, uses a Foodini to re-create pieces of food that are identical, freeing cooks to complete other tasks.3 These automated tasks are often the most time-consuming ones. For example, 3-D food printers can create complex designs such as detailed cake decorations, or recipes that require dexterity such as homemade pizza.4
In addition to the benefits in food production, 3-D food printing has far-reaching implications on sustainability and nutrition. As the global population grows to an estimated 9.6B people by 2050, some analysts project that food production will need to increase by 50%.5 3-D food printing can make unconventional foods in its raw form, such as insects, more appetizing in a new form, and reduce food waste since the process is precisely additive in nature.6 3-D food printing can also optimize health by tailoring foods to specific nutritional requirements. This is especially important for elder care. About 15-25% of people over the age of 50 have difficulties swallowing, limiting their scope of edible food.7 3-D food printers can pack the right amount of vitamins and minerals in a retextured form that is not only edible, but more appetizing than a typical puree.8
Natural Machines is capitalizing on the impact of 3-D food printing in the short-term by targeting high-end kitchens and restaurants through its Foodini product. Their strategy is to get people used to the idea of eating 3D-printed food so that it is not as much of a mental jump for consumers to buy a printer for household use.9 This is in line with broader industry trends; the commercial food vertical currently holds the largest market share of over 43% in the global 3D printing of food.10
In the next two to ten years, Natural Machines is planning to break into the consumer segment by positioning the printer as a smart device with multiple variations and more convenience. Kucsma, co-founder of Natural Machines, sees the Foodini interacting with other smart devices to personalize nutrition. She imagines that “you [could] connect your Fitbit to your food printer and it can print a breakfast bar that’s appropriate for you on that given day.”11 To further increase convenience for consumers, Natural Machines plans to work with retailers that will allow consumers to purchase ready-made food capsules.12 Kucsma, who ultimately envisions 3-D food printers to be common kitchen appliances, compares future printer models to be like microwaves in terms of varying sizes, price points, and functionality to cater to varying consumer needs.13
Moving forward, Natural Machines will need to improve efficiency and costs of 3-D food printers to make them mainstream in both business and consumer segments. An obstacle for 3-D printers at large is the slowness compared to other scale-driven manufacturing methods.14 The printer’s production speed can become the bottleneck especially for restaurants and professional kitchens that serve a large number of consumers. This may not be a problem for individual consumers who are cooking relatively smaller portions, but the Foodini’s price point of $4000 is, making it inaccessible to many consumer segments, and even small businesses. “I’m a small restaurant…they’re pretty expensive for me to use it for one course every night” shares one chef.15 In addition to the cost of the device itself, are the pre- and post-printing materials and labor costs.16 Users still need to purchase and at times prepare fillings in capsules, and also clean the device for different food creations. To overcome these obstacles, Natural Machines should expand their product line by creating a business version that has faster processing speed and more automated setup processes, and a cheaper consumer version that has stripped-down functionality.
Will devices such as the Foodini become a mainstream household device in the future? If 3-D food printers do become mainstream, will they substitute or complement traditional manufacturing, i.e. cooking? If humans lose the art of cooking, are we removing a fundamental part of the human experience?
1 “Global 3D Food Printing Market Anticipated to Reach $525.6 Million by 2023, Reports BIS Research”, 2018, PR Newswire Europe Including UK Disclose, .
2 Natural Machines – About Us. (2018). Natural Machines – About Us. [online] Available at: https://www.naturalmachines.com/about-us [Accessed 13 Nov. 2018].
3 Wiggers, K. (2017). 3D Food Printers: How They Could Change What You Eat | Digital Trends. [online] Digital Trends. Available at: https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/3d-food-printers-how-they-could-change-what-you-eat/
4 Prisco, J. (2014). ‘Foodini’ machine lets you print edible burgers, pizza – CNN. [online] CNN. Available at: https://www.cnn.com/2014/11/06/tech/innovation/foodini-machine-print-food/index.html
5 Wiggers, K. (2017). 3D Food Printers: How They Could Change What You Eat | Digital Trends. [online] Digital Trends. Available at: https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/3d-food-printers-how-they-could-change-what-you-eat/
6 Straw, J. (2015). Why 3D printed food is the future – Disruption Hub. [online] Disruption Hub. Available at: https://disruptionhub.com/disrupted-food-why-3d-printed-food-is-the-future-of-food/
7 Sun, J., Peng, Z., Yan, L., Ying Hsi Fuh, J. and Soon Hong, G. (2015). 3D food printing an innovative way of mass customization in food fabrication. [online] Ijb.whioce.com. Available at: http://ijb.whioce.com/index.php/int-j-bioprinting/article/view/01006
8 Spaeth, D. 3D printing is changing the face of multiple industries. ECN: Electronic Component News 61, no. 9 (October 2017): 21–23.
9 Fussell, S. (2016). This company is creating incredible 3D printed food you can eat. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/3d-printed-food-foodini-2016-4#the-consumers-themselves-supply-the-cooking-ingredients-which-is-then-placed-into-stainless-steel-capsules-2
10 “Global 3D Food Printing Market Anticipated to Reach $525.6 Million by 2023, Reports BIS Research”, 2018, PR Newswire Europe Including UK Disclose, .
11 Fussell, S. (2016). This company is creating incredible 3D printed food you can eat. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/3d-printed-food-foodini-2016-4#the-consumers-themselves-supply-the-cooking-ingredients-which-is-then-placed-into-stainless-steel-capsules-2
13 3DigitalCooks (2017). Interview with Lynette Kucsma form Natural Machines. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohv1TsKOtPc
14 Pooler, M. (2017). 3D printing starts to gain traction in industrial tool kits | Financial Times. [online] Ft.com. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/3d009438-26a5-11e7-8691-d5f7e0cd0a16
15 Chadwick, J. (2017). Here’s how 3D food printers are changing what we eat. [online] TechRepublic. Available at: https://www.techrepublic.com/article/heres-how-3d-food-printers-are-changing-the-way-we-cook/
16Holwef, M. The limits of 3D printing. Harvard Business Review Digital Articles (June 23, 2015).