Lynette Kucsma’s vision about the present future of 3D food printing is simple and clear: it’s coming and it’s going to mean much, much more than heart-shaped pizzas or multicolored pyramids of sugar.
Lynette is the CMO and co-founder of Natural Machines, the makers of Foodini, a 3D food printer that works with open capsules and fresh ingredients. Their headquarters in Barcelona is surprisingly low-profile, for such a hot food-tech topic like 3D food printing. That’s all consistent with their strategy, though, as she explains during our chat in a busy café in the Gothic Quarter.
When do you expect 3D food printers to become normal everyday appliances?
Our long-term vision is that in 10 to 15 years you won’t be surprised to see one in a kitchen, just like you’re not surprised to see a microwave today. To put it in perspective, it took the microwave 30 years to get to 90% consumer household penetration. So we’re talking about half that time, mostly because we’re a more tech savvy audience these days, and new technologies get adopted a lot quicker.
When that happens, will 3D food printers be just one extra appliance in the kitchen?
I’m not sure about that. I think in the future we’ll see a mash-up of appliances where functionalities will start to blur. For example, we know that to break into the consumer household market we need one additional piece of functionality that’s not available in the model we’re currently selling, and that’s the capability to cook. We’re working on that technology, and we’re already at the testing phase.
If you add cooking, would a 3D food printer get closer to, say, a Thermomix?
In fact, we see Thermomix as complementary to 3D food printers, not as a competitor. I think we’re going to see fewer and fewer appliances in the kitchen. If you own a Thermomix and a 3D food printer, you’ll be less likely to need a blender, a microwave, a conventional oven, or even a stovetop. In the future, appliances will take up a lot less space in the kitchen.
So what would I use in 15 years from now to roast a chicken?
Foodini, of course.
And will I able to add some decorations too?
You know, it’s funny because people think about 3D food printing as a high-tech way to create fancy designs, but it’s not all true, right? Think about a basic boring square cracker. When you go to a supermarket in the States or even here in Europe, you have an entire isle dedicated to crackers, but none of them I find particularly healthy. They tend to have too much salt or unhealthy oils. You could make them at home, but that would be time-consuming and probably messy. With Foodini, you could load up a food capsule with the dough, and have a healthier cracker in no time.
Will you sell ready-to-use capsules as well?
For me, one of the reasons why I’m so passionate about Natural Machines is because I want to get away from as much processed food as possible. That’s why we’ll never force you to buy pre-filled food capsules. With Foodini, you’ll always have the chance to use your own fresh ingredients.
Do you see a future for 3D printers in schools?
Absolutely, although we’re not trying to build larger models for school kitchens. In a canteen, a 3D printer can be a great teaching tool, because kids can see in real time what’s in their food and how it’s cooked. This way, we can get them engaged in healthy eating and home economics.
Do you think it will be hard to convince parents?
It won’t be hard, once we manage to overcome a certain mindset. If they told you that your food was cooked in a 3D printer and you knew nothing about it, you would think it’s full of junk, preservatives and additives. But once you start talking about the fresh ingredients, the open capsules and the fact that you can make healthy food at home, then the fear factor starts to diminish. That’s why our strategy right now is to keep a low profile in terms of sales, so that we can work more closely with our initial customers and focus on educating the world about the benefits of Foodini.
But don’t you think 3D food printers may take away the pleasure of cooking?
You will always have the choice to do everything by hand, but the problem is, we’re busy. Before the Industrial Age, people used to spend 6 hours a day making all their meals from start to finish, but we don’t have that kind of time anymore, let alone the cooking skills.
For example, we tested Foodini to make pizza. As you can imagine, our Italian friends were not happy about that. They were basically saying that pizza is made with love, and if you’re printing it, it can’t be good. Our response was: if you make pizza at home, we’re not telling you to stop, and we’re not looking to replace pizzerias. But if pizza were so easy to make, then why would you have entire supermarket isles dedicated to frozen pizzas? With Foodini you’ll be able to make a healthy pizza at home, and much more quickly. At the end of the day, it’s simply a kitchen appliance that helps you make food.
It sounds like your true competitors are food manufacturers.
In fact, they can benefit a lot from 3D food printing. They know it’s coming and it’s going to impact their market share, so they’re trying to wrap their heads around it. But then again, it wouldn’t make any sense for us to make Foodini as big as a factory would need, we’re looking at customization instead.
Let’s take a large chocolate producer for example. If you asked them to make a customized version of their typical bar, it would be quite complicated. But with a small machine like Foodini, customization becomes easy, economical and efficient.
Are food manufacturers interested in pre-filled capsules as well?
We’re working with them on that front too, although, as I said earlier, that’s not the business model we’re pursuing. We’ll never force anyone to buy pre-filled capsules, but fact of the matter is, there’s a percentage of the market out there that wants them. With pre-filled capsules, we’re trying to find the answer to two simple questions: can we package things without additives or preservatives? And how can we customize recipes?
For example, a lot of food manufacturers are under pressure to lower sugar content, but what is low-sugar for me, may not be low-sugar for you. With a 3D food printer, you could buy pre-filled capsules of your favorite cookies, which you could make at home with the quantity of sugar you want. That way, you could wean off sugar more easily and still be comfortable with the food brands you like. It’s a way to deconstruct food and reconstruct it just the way you want it.