“3D printed food you can eat,” makes me think of the “replicator” in Star Trek. The Replicator seemed like a magical device with the ability to make something out of nothing. I had forgotten the Replicator used technology from the transporter. This means the replicator actually found whatever you ordered and sent it to you. Quickly.
At the end of a long day, I read the article mentioned in a recent Coffee with CART about the 3D edible food printer “Foodini”. Reading the article helped me shed my Star Trek Replicator assumptions and first off, I wasn’t impressed. I left work thinking “Big deal, somebody figured out how to fit a cookie factory into a box the size of a microwave, and it doesn’t even cook! Why would any of our retailers be interested?”
It takes me 20-30 minutes to drive home from work, so I tend to relax some during this time. I started to think of factories that produce food. Basically, food goes in, it gets rearranged, and then packaged food comes out. Why do we have factories? To mass-produce. Now lets consider what customers want today. Since I’m a consumer, what do I want? I want to find the products I like with ease. I don’t want to find something I like, then look for it again and find out it was discontinued or altered. Three products came to mind: birthday cakes, smoothies and toothpaste. With these three products, a MENU of varieties can be made just to help a customer order.
Custom birthday cakes and smoothies are products customers have to wait for. Sure, you can pick out a generic cake in the bakery and ask for someone to write a personal message in frosting. Smoothies are usually made while you wait, and it takes a while because several ingredients are used. I think ordering both of these products using a user-friendly app could cut down on ordering communication errors and cut down on labor costs. What if after an order is submitted, it gets sent to a 3D food printer to produce? Both products use a variety of ingredients, but small amounts. These apps could be available at a kiosk in the store, through a mobile phone app, or plugged into your website.
When I think of a 3D printer making toothpaste, I wonder if valuable store space could be used better? Usually a large section of an aisle is dedicated for toothpaste. Instead, what if you could create an experience for the customer by using that space for a dental hygienist who does a basic cleaning? After the appointment, you leave with a custom tube of toothpaste with your store’s logo on it. The toothpaste could be included in the cleaning package using custom recommendations’ after looking at your teeth?
Remember the relaxing car ride I mentioned at the beginning? Sometimes new technology seems so far away it’s hard to stop and think of a real world use. I think a 3D food printer can be used in a large variety of ways at a grocery store to help make today’s customers happy.