Printer-to-Table: The Next Food Movement?

Will 3-D food printers become the next household kitchen device?

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?

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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

12 Ibid.

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).

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15 thoughts on “Printer-to-Table: The Next Food Movement?

  1. Thank you for researching this interesting product – my sense is that although the technology is promising, the current product has too many obstacles to be cost and time efficient. My main question is how significantly this product varies from kitchen appliances that already exist in homes, and if the added functionality of specific nutrition profiles and identical output are really solving consumer pain points. To me, cooking is a central and joyful activity in the homes of many and is unlikely to be replaced by this technology, particularly as it exists today. I could however imagine a more evolved version of this product in commercial kitchens at large institutions like universities, hospitals and prisons.

  2. This is an extremely interesting topic! I can’t imagine a world without cooking, but it seems like it might be possible, and sooner then I would have ever thought. While I do believe that this technology has the potential to have a huge impact on our daily lives, I do wonder whether it is truly possible to remove cooking from the equation in all households (excluding the people who cook because they enjoy it). Could a 3D printer make a smoothie? It is instances like this where I think it might still be useful for someone to make something on their own.

    One thought that came to mind while reading this is the potential for Natural Machines to pair with IoT technology. I imagine a day where I send a signal to my 3D food printer that I am on the way home and dinner is ready for me when I get there. Another company that Natural Machines might look to work with is Suvie (https://www.suvie.com/). I found this company fascinating as they too are trying to eliminate complicated cooking in the home. While you still have to buy the inputs, the Suvie machine knows the time it takes to cook and will have your meal ready at your requested time.

  3. This is a very interesting topic! What I found most appealing about the idea of 3D-printing food is the ability to reduce waste. Currently, 1/3 of all the food produced around the world is wasted. If were able to get to near 0% food waste, this could have significant implications through the more sustainable use of raw ingredients and ability to feed our exponentially growing population.

    One concern I have with transitioning 3D printers into a household item is the resistance it may have from consumers. It seems this type of product may have a steep learning curve that can detract consumers and also, deter away from the enjoyable, family-oriented “cooking experience”.

  4. Thank you for writing about this topic! I do think that it will take many years for the average consumer to be able to access this type of technology – for cost, safety, and trust concerns. Additionally, I do think that companies like Natural Machines will have a relatively difficult time convincing the public that food created through their technology is healthy/sustainable; in an environment where consumers are increasingly concerned with food being fresh, organic, and sourced locally, I’m not sure how many people would take a leap of faith.
    In terms of whether this will impact the “human experience” of cooking, I would relate this to the topic of AI we’ve been discussing in class. Without human understanding of good flavor combinations, artistic designs, and interesting global and homemade recipes, I do not think that this technology will be 100% successful. The machine seems more like a part of the entire process rather than the process itself. It will be interesting to see, though, whether restaurants start utilizing this technology for parts of their dishes – will this potentially change the perception of certain establishments by consumers? Will this drive consumers to seek out even more “farm-to-table” options instead of “machine-to-table?”

  5. Very cool topic. I am especially convinced by the idea of using 3D printing to turn otherwise unappetizing foods (e.g., insects) into more appetizing forms. While I have no doubt that the use of this technology will become prevalent in households and many small to medium tier restaurants, I doubt that it will be used by the higher-tier, Michelin-starred establishments that emphasize complexity and innovation over mere convenience. I suspect that Paco Pérez uses his Foodini not so much for operational efficiency, but more for the fact that 3D printing food is still such a novel concept. Once that concept becomes more mainstream, I expect the use of this technology will be used much less frequently in high-end dining or, at most, in very minor ways.

  6. For someone like myself who really enjoys cooking, I am very curious as to how well the 3D printing food is actually able to recreate meals that I enjoy. To the point above, I do not think that this concept is going to catch on in the high-end dining market where the art of cooking and the esteem of chefs is so highly valued. Additionally, to the point about 3D printing being impactful from a sustainability perspective given the rise in demand for food as the global population grows, I do not think that 3D printing of food is going to have a substantial impact in this area. It will certainly augment the problem slightly, but people in developing nations that will need food the most will not have access to it, whereas those in more developed nations may be able to supplement their food intake with 3D printed food. In my view I think the connection of Fitbits with the 3D printer and the ability for the 3D printer to make foods easier to consume for those with difficulty swallowing or the elderly will make the technology more desirable in the future.

  7. This is a fascinating topic – thanks so much for sharing! As someone who loves to cook, I’m really excited about having this technology in my future kitchen. I think it will not only enhance the convenience of preparing meals on busy days, but also increase the fun, creativity, and complexity of cooking that can be done in the home. For example, I would love to have printed cake decorations or flower-shaped carrots to garnish a salad.

    I also think you made a great point about how this technology can help individuals with swallowing difficulties. Your point actually made think about this NYT article from 2017: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/12/world/asia/japan-yokohama-aging-population-food.html. It features a restaurant in Yokohama, Japan that specializes in preparing food for elderly patients with chewing or swallowing problems–their expertise is in altering the texture of foods so that individuals do not aspirate the food and develop medical complications. I think there’s tremendous opportunity for this company to address this specific population’s needs and bring convenience into the home. Of course, that is dependent on developing an affordable product for everyday consumers.

  8. Interesting topic. I can see a lot of applications for this, but the military comes to mind since the cost of transporting healthy food is so expensive — especially for anything refrigerated or not dense (e.g. carrying vegetables isn’t possible). To your point on sustainability and making new types of foods appetizing, I could also see this 3D printer being useful once we reach the point where we can make lab-grown meat. There is actually a company in Israel who is experimenting with this: https://www.livekindly.co/hummus-company-lab-grown-steak/. They grow the meat in a lab and then use 3D printing to give it the right texture. While I think we are still a long way off from lab grown meat being socially accepted, this could help.

    It seems like the company is mostly focused on higher-end markets (e.g. people who want to print their dinner on the way home), but I like your applications of using it for the elderly and sustainability. Are they focused on this in the short-term or long-term?

  9. The author asks whether 3-D food printers can substitute traditional manufacturing, but I don’t believe that it’s going to happen “entirely”. In the same way that other technologies (e.g. food processors, microwave ovens, frozen pre-processed food, etc) only have empowered the chefs, enabling them to experiment with new things, I believe that 3-D printing will mostly empower chefs, not replace them.

  10. This is such an interesting application of additive manufacturing! I do wonder about a couple things. Firstly, I believe the idea of a printer making food out of a capsule has limited appeal and is limited in functionality to a specific set of meal types (e.g., I see a lot of desserts and appetizers on Foodini’s website). Those meal types may not need to be freshly prepared in the first place, and so therefore the usage of Foodini may be rendered obsolete by restaurant / food / bakery delivery services. Secondly, I believe the target market for such a device will be quite niche given the limited range of options, and the fact that it does not solve a “burning need” that people have (at least in their homes). Perhaps for restaurants this may work once it reaches higher production speeds and lower costs, but even then it has the flavor of a “generically” produced meal that may limit the appeal of the restaurant. Customers go to restaurants for the experience that each dish was prepared uniquely for them by the labor of another human being. For now, Foodini lies in the realm of novelty.

  11. This is a very interesting article! Though I do think that 3d printed food could have some very good practical uses, I wonder how difficult it would be for such a product to be diffused in the mainstream. We have been eating food the same way for centuries, and I feel like many people will find it strange for their food to be built molecule by molecule by a machine. I wonder how the manufacturers/marketers of this product are thinking about surmounting this challenge.

  12. Fascinating article. I wonder if 3D printing is slightly “overkill” when it comes to food preparation. Outside of Michelin- star winning restaurants, this device can potentially shed some of the accuracy required in other industries to produce a satisfactory product, allowing the manufacturers to reduce the price.
    I would also be interested to know how this device is doing in terms of food safety. When dealing with tech- device manufacturing there is less (or no) need for ensuring the device is clean of harmful pathogens or other food contaminating factors, in the world of food manufacturing/preparation the ingredients themselves can become harmful if not removed appropriately.
    To the point about losing the art of cooking, I would argue that in a similar way to restaurants not killing the “kitchen star”, individuals who want to engage in cooking as an art/bonding activity will likely continue to do so

  13. Thank you for this – I found it really interesting! I’m surprised that management is currently targeting more high-end restaurants: this is mentioned in a comment above, but I have a difficult time believing that high-end chefs would be okay with using this in their dishes, and if they did I’m sure they would conceal the fact to the diners (which would defeat the purpose of creating consumer awareness / familiarity with eating 3D printed foods). I also worry about the lead times / set-up times necessary to produce something in these machines, since at a restaurant you’re not going to have full visibility into how many times a certain dish will be ordered in a given night. Seems like something that would be most useful in large cafeterias, food-service businesses, or catering businesses where they know demand ahead of time and are producing very large quantities of the same dish.

    I actually really like the ‘breakfast bar printing’ idea. More broadly, it would be interesting if you could choose 50 different foods you really like, input your taste preferences and your nutritional needs, and the machine would produce meals or supplements for you with the exact right mix of nutrients. It would be a vitamin on steroids.

  14. This offers an intriguing glimpse into our future kitchens. It seems to go against the trend of natural/organic food, but I can see the advantages of printed food that you lay out. At least 3D printed food seems a more appealing alternative than Soylent ;). One problem I foresee could be fiber: Will these printers be able to handle / incorporate the fibers that we need in our diet?

  15. I think that Foodini and products like it will fail to gain a foothold in our household kitchens. They neither offer convenience (blending up ingredients, lots of cartridges and messy clean up), nor a superior meal. For people that believe cooking is a joy, the Foodini is an abomination that seeks to strip away the wholesome, enjoyable experience of preparing dinner from their lives. For people that believe cooking is a chore, it will always be simpler to buy prepared microwaveable meals that can be nuked at the touch of a button with no clean up required.

    I do agree with “Rick & Morty” that this sort of technology may be a way to make unappetizing sources of protein, such a insects or lab grown meat, into something that looks more palatable. This could be an important innovation in steering our society towards a healthier, more environmentally friendly and more sustainable diet.

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