Today, we’ve got an interview with someone from the Netherlands about a really new and very advanced food 3D printer. We’re super excited about talking food 3D printing. It’s one of our favorite subjects. The idea of food 3D printing is just a really logical way to look at the benefits of 3D printing on mainstream. That’s our go-to example when we’re giving speeches to people who don’t know much about 3D printing, think about how it can transform your bakery or your event planning company. It just gives us understanding because there are a lot of personalization and personal connection and locality to it; the idea that you need to be there in person to experience it, so it covers everything. Even though it’s not as mature as desktop 3D printing or actually commercial 3D printing in general, the food 3D printing is not as mature in the world, it has the ability to catch fire and be more widely used and distributed in touching people’s lives faster than other kinds of 3D printing. We think of it as if they can figure that out, if they can get food 3D printing to be understood, then we can tip 3D printing into being such mainstream consciousness. It’s understandable then by the common layperson.
We’re going to interview Nina Hoff of byFlow. She’s the CEO of a Dutch company that specializes in 3D printing for some time but they really spun this off and started this company in 2015 in which she is the CEO. She’s a very young 25-year-old CEO, which we think is amazing. It’s a company she has with her brother and her father and a couple of other partners as well. We just love the idea of really getting something that’s so mainstream in terms of food 3D printing, finally. Let’s hear from her.
Listen to the podcast here:
Building Your Own Food 3D Printer with Nina Hoff of ByFlow
Nina, thanks so much for joining us. We’re really excited to talk about one of our favorite subjects, 3D food printing.
Let’s just get a little bit of background on how you got started 3D printing and where you’re based at.
We’re based in Eindhoven in the Netherlands. We started 3D printing back in 2009. When my dad launched his company, fab lab here in Maastricht, it’s in the southern part of the Netherlands, my brother was doing an internship at TNO, which is a big research institute here in the Netherlands. He was doing an internship about 3D food printing, mainly 3D chocolate printing. Next to that, he was also volunteering at the company of my dad, which was a fab lab. He was always fixing the 3D printers that were there in the weekends, because during the week, intensively used printers would mainly fill. At some point, late in 2014, he was fed up with it and he decided to print his own 3D printer, which was a portable 3D printer made out of 3D printed parts. He found out that it was possible to print food during his internship, he decided that the printer he was going to develop must not only be able of printing plastics but also able of printing other materials, more paste-like materials, so silicon, ceramics, but also food like pasta, dough, chocolates. That was actually when the Focus 3D Printer was born out of a hobby mainly. In a few months, there were so many people going to the fab lab seeing his printer and asking if they could buy one, that he decided in 2015 to build a company out of it named byFlow.
We love that story because we think so many great 3D printer companies and accessory companies and other things around this have developed out of that demand that you see from fab labs and other places.
There’s a lot of development being done in a fab lab, mainly also because you get so many different kinds of customers into a fab lab that have so many different kinds of questions that the people that are doing developments and engineers are constantly seeking for ways to further develop the 3D printers. That was also for Floris, my brother, the reason that he created the Focus 3D printer mainly because people started to ask for printing new materials, other materials than just plastic filaments. The fab lab is an amazing space to do this because there are also people coming together, experts from all kinds of industries, to help you further develop your printer.
You’re in an incubator startup community, so you have a lot of that surrounding you as well.
That’s true. We’ve been participating in a business accelerator first, it’s called Startup Bootcamp HighTechXL for a couple of months. Later on, we moved to the building next to it on the High Tech campus where there is an ecosystem of startups around us. These startups altogether were trying to improve businesses and help each other where possible to speed up innovation.
Let’s get back to the food. We don’t hear a culinary background here, but you guys are passionate about food printing. Tell us why.
It was actually a little bit by accident. Floris was working on a 3D food printer back at TNO. In order to sell our multi-material printer, because that was what it was in 2015 and 2016, we needed to come up with ways to explain to people that it was possible to not only print plastics but also print ceramics, silicon and food. Therefore, my dad came up with a very good idea that was to do a 3D pop-up restaurant where everything was 3D printed: a plastic chair, a ceramic plate, plastic cutlery, cups that were even printed from ceramics, and of course the food. People were lining up to have dinner at our pop-up restaurant, which we hosted in London. When we read the reactions afterwards on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and online even, nobody was talking about the fact that we were a multi-material printer, but they were all talking about the fact that we were a 3D food printer. All sorts of emotions coming up; people being very interested and being very open to it, very happy about it, very enthusiastic, but also, many people that were very angry about it, scared, not knowing what this technology will bring to them. They really thought that we were going to print plastics and provide them with plastic food.
We were going from a multi-material company more towards a 3D food printing company because we found out that there was actually a market for it, that the people were very enthusiastic about it and interested, the experts working with food everyday like a chef or a bakery or chocolatier. Therefore in April 2017, we decided to fully concentrate on 3D food printing and skip all the other materials. That’s what we’re doing today.
That was actually a brilliant marketing move because talk about regular 3D printing, not that there aren’t a lot of advancements still to be made there, but it’s a very crowded market. Whereas food 3D printing, there are a lot more opportunities and certainly to get a lot of media attention, and there are obviously less people doing it. Also, many of the food printers that were supposed to come out over the last five years have all been delayed or shifted gears or are not available and never came to fruition. We don’t think it’s for lack of demand, we think it was more for lack of management and organizational structure and financing on the ends of the companies that were working on them. We’ve been dying to get our hands on a food 3D printer since we started. It’s one of the things that we’ve wanted to do, mainly because our oldest daughter is a culinary genius. She’s amazing. Between our design skills and her culinary skills we thought, “We could really test one out and do some amazing work.” But we have yet to have seen one that really was capable of being an at-home printer. There has been a few that have started to come out. 3D Systems is doing a lot of work in this space with more high-end commercial work. Our friends at BeeHex have a pizza 3D printer. We think it’s really smart because you guys have a very nice niche with a lot of demand.
We saw this opportunity as well because while researching about 3D food printing and while launching our 3D pop-up restaurants, many experts from the industry also came to us like, “How can we use this 3D printer for future applications?” Think about creating chocolate shapes that were possibly not able before by hand or by mold, but also helping a chocolatier because making a mold is quite expensive. It can go up to €1,000, €2,000, or €3,000. While the trend right now is that there are lots of customers of them who want customization, personalization. For example, they want something special for their wedding cake or a special decoration for a birthday. When there is a lack of craftsmanship going on, at least in Europe right now, this 3D food printer can really help them and enable them to create the shapes that are needed in order to get customers coming back to their store.
It also creates the food as an event, which we think is a very big thing. The idea of having your event be that every guest at your wedding has something personal, it accelerates the art of culinary to another level. It also gives establishments who will use this in the future an opportunity to create and offer a truly unique experience. We know probably most restaurateurs feel that their food is unique anyway, but it may be in flavor. But in appearance, at some point, they learn from each other and they do similar things, but visually it may not be much different. Here, everybody could have their own signature designs, whether it’s of their desserts or all sorts of different aspects of food. Just the presentation could be completely unique.
You’re making a total new experience of food, not only in shapes but also in flavors and in textures. We’re really investigating also together with food experts, with chefs and chocolatiers and bakeries, to see what kind of difference 3D food printing bring to the textures and flavors of food. Although we’re not changing anything within the ingredients, we’re not adding any additives, no E numbers or no extra stuff, maybe only some stabilizers every now and then but all natural-based ones. It’s really interesting to find out that 3D food printing can also be important for R&D in the food industry.
Next to that, we don’t only see applications for 3D food printing on small scale. Customization and decoration is one thing. We want to take that even further and talk about food waste for example with food multinationals, which have a lot of food waste currently, to see how food printing can help in that way. A lot of food today is being thrown away because it has this small spot on there or because it’s not straight enough or the tomato is not looking that beautiful. That food is now being thrown away, which is actually quite sad, especially when you think about a world where we will have 8 billion people by 2024. We are wondering, can 3D food printing also prevent food waste or help in some way to prevent food waste?
It gives that maybe not perfect food a place to go?
Yes, exactly. That’s what we foresee that could happen. Instead of being thrown away or being reused, so to say, but again giving a second life.
This segment is growing really fast, from everything that I’ve been checking out and reading, is that the food industry in general is still on a large scale up. You’re poised in a market that is growing, where there is question about that on the plastic product 3D printing side of things.
We’re definitely in a growing market. The fun thing is, and I think that was also the same with 3D printing of plastics in a more consumer-based or a smaller-scale way, is where is this 3D food printing going to land? There are many applications to think about, but is there enough opportunity for the food industry to react? Technology can be built, and byFlow knows everything about 3D technology, also for 3D food printing, but we don’t know anything about food. We don’t know anything about those ingredients. We don’t understand those ingredients. We don’t know anything about the food industry. Of course we’re trying to learn right now and we have to speed that process up, but we need to partner as well with food companies globally in order to understand those processes and to adapt our technology for the food.
In a way also, just for their knowledge gap. You have this fear of the design side of things, especially in that culinary world where they’re good with knives, not with computers. It probably presents some challenges for them, a learning curve, we would think.
This is a big learning curve within the food industry. That’s also why we’re trying to help people in the food industry by providing them with recipes we’ve already created regarding food, but also providing them with designs that we’ve created and have been testing a lot in order to explain what kinds of things are possible and what kinds of things are not possible. Next to that we see, at least here in the Netherlands, that software is getting easier and easier. You’re now able to make a drawing on a tablet by hand and transfer that easily to a 3D model. Two years ago, we did a pilot within big supermarkets here in the Netherlands where customers could draw their name on a tablet and we would transfer that model towards the printer because we have a Wi-Fi connection in there, and people could immediately see that their name was being printed on a cake. The software is already there, but we need to further develop that in order to get those chefs, chocolatiers, bakeries, food industry, to react.
Can you tell us a little bit about the actual printer? How big is it? How big items can it print? What materials or foods are you actually currently working with?
The printer is quite small. It fits into a suitcase. It’s a foldable printer, which makes it easy for you to transport it and also to store it safely. Its print platform is 20x20x15 centimeters, so 15 centimeters high and 20×20 centimeters in the other directions. You can print quite high objects. Although we found out that for food, it’s not really necessary to print large objects. Most of the foods go for smaller bites, for example, because the speed is still a challenge for us within food printing. It takes now up to 15 minutes to print a dish. You still have to garnish that a little bit. Food printing is quite a long time.
That’s a little slow to wait for your food. People are impatient, even if it’s entertaining at the time.
For now, when chefs are doing mise en place, they can also put a printer in there to do the mise en place to pre-print stuff for the restaurant for dinner. The ingredients that we can print are very various. You can think of sweets, for example, the chocolates, marzipan, meringue, buttercream, materials like that. When we go more to fruits and vegetables, it goes from avocados to carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, everything almost you can turn into a paste material.
Last year we had a real nice breakthrough and that was that we’re able to 3D print meat. That was actually a fun thing. There was this meat company coming to us. It was an Australian meat company and they were having a question. They said, “We have to throw away lots of high quality meat, which doesn’t really look nice. It comes from the bone, it’s not like a real steak or it’s not like a beautiful piece that you buy in the supermarket. Nowadays, we either have to throw it away or we sell it to cost price, which doesn’t really make sense for us, so we throw it away anyway. Could this food printing maybe help to sell this beautiful meat, also to regarding food waste?” We found out that that was possible to 3D print the meat and make beautiful shapes out of it. Think about it as a chicken nugget in a nice shape. We found out as well that chefs, for example, were willing to pay ten times more for this meat than they normally do. There’s also real business model for it to prevent food waste.
That’s actually really good. We can see how that makes sense, as you’ve said, as the global population increases, to get the most out of food. We won’t be able to afford to be wasting it. We’re curious, when you print these foods, you mentioned several kinds of vegetables and meat. We can see buttercream and chocolate more easily in terms of mechanically, how to print it, how to extrude it. We’re used to in desktop 3D printing or actually the entire 3D printing industry, either it’s a process of heating something up until it’s a liquid and then it cools rapidly to become a solid, or there’s a chemical reaction taking place that transforms something from liquid to solid. How are you doing this with food like meat and vegetables? You say you make a paste out of it, so that it will flow, but what makes it hold its form once it is printed?
Most of the ingredients actually are stable enough to 3D print. You don’t have to really make high and big objects regarding food so you don’t have to have that stable ingredients. If it’s not stable enough, for example, tomatoes, they have a lot of water in there, we use agar-agar, which is made out of algae and it’s a natural stabilizer to get a thicker, more stable paste.
This is a multi-extruder printer, that’s where you guys started from. We have to say that you did also have us at ceramic. We’ve been dying to get our hands on a ceramic 3D printer or access to one. Just the idea of being able to do all of those materials, how are you using that multi-extruder in this? Are you doing a two-color printer so that you can do one paste and then a different paste? Are they working like that in concert?
No. Right now, you can only adjust one printhead to the printer because it’s a small printer. You can only print one material at a time, but you are able to switch cartridges in between. You can pause a print and then put a new cartridge with another material in there and then start printing again, continue printing.
You can do layered foods then?
Yes. You can start with some meat and then print some vegetables on it, for example, or print different vegetables on top of each other. Actually, the system for ceramics printing is the same as for food printing. Only when you print ceramics, you push ceramics through the cartridge, and when you print food, you push food to the cartridge. It’s like the ink printer actually.
One of the big issues in the food service industry worldwide is health and cleanliness. You don’t want bacteria to grow and get trapped there and things like that. It’s a big emphasis on cleaning afterwards. Are these printheads easy to clean or you’re putting them in the refrigerator when they’re not in use to keep bacteria from growing? Tell us a little bit about it. That must have presented a significant challenge to you.
When we 3D print food, we put food into the cartridge, which is actually a medical syringe. You can easily clean the syringe in the dishwasher, for example. When you put your food in there, you close the syringe with a red cap so there is going to be a vacuum within the syringe. Nothing comes in contact with the food, but only the cartridge itself and the red cap. When the printer starts working, starts pushing out the material, the extruder only touches the red cap, so it doesn’t come in contact with the food. At the same time, you print, for example, a plate directly or on the glass plates which we provide, and those are all food-safe materials. There’s no way that food can come into a little zone or somewhere which it cannot go to. We prevented that.
Do some of that food then get cooked afterwards or heated? What are some of the experiments that your culinary partners have done with you?
Of course some foods need to be after-processed. For the meat, we can heat up the printbed to 80 degrees, which is not enough to cook it but it’s enough to stabilize the first layers to afterwards frying in a pan, for example, like you do with normal meat. Some of the foods just go into the refrigerator, some of the foods we cook just by boiling water. Other food like vegetables, they have already been cooked and then are being 3D printed, so they don’t need any process anymore.
We assume that getting it off the plate is probably the hardest part.
Yes. That sometimes is a challenge, so therefore we choose plates which we can directly print on. We have flat plates where you can directly put your print on and then eat it from the plate immediately.
There you go, and there you need the ceramic side.
Exactly, the ceramic side.
You still need that multi-extruder. What’s been the biggest challenge with growing a business in the 3D print market, especially a 3D printer?
For us, the biggest challenge was to overcome not per se the technology but to make a 3D printer that was not only being able to make one printer but you’re also being able to make a thousand printers to make it ready for manufacturing. Because we’re a very young company, we have all young engineers where the average age here in the company is 24, 25. We didn’t have any experience with design for manufacturing, so we really needed help from our suppliers in order to learn how to make a design that was easy to assemble. In a year’s time, we had to overcome assembling a printer in eight hours to assembling a printer within an hour and a half in order to make any margin on the printer when you sell it. I think that for us was the biggest challenge to overcome.
Is your printer now commercially available?
Are you just selling it through your own company or do you have any distributors around the world or in the US, for example? How is that happening?
We’re not yet in the US based on regulation, but we’re right now shipping within Europe and we have a few resellers that help us with that. We started selling 3D food printers from April of this year, so we’ve just started. We are looking into ways to expand our business outside of Europe and always looking for partners for that.
You say that and we are like, “Of course, it’s the FDA.” Our design firm that we’ve had here for 25 years is we make it our absolute policy that we don’t take food or medical devices because it involves some regulatory body to make sure that your design eventually gets to market and it takes way too long. We just made it a policy that that’s just not fast enough in how we want to work, so we don’t take any of those projects here. We totally understand that frustration for you.
It’s a big one. It’s also regarding to having a support company within the United States. Also, what’s a very big challenge for us is that for 3D food printing, there is no real regulation yet. For mixers, for ovens, for all those types of machines they have special regulations. When you produce a product for example, what kind of materials can be used? For 3D food printing, because it’s such a new market, there is no real regulation yet.
There are no standards, nothing that you have to achieve, so it’s arbitrary.
No. We are asking lawyers almost every month to help us with this. There is not yet any regulation network. For that, we need some more competitors, which is always a bad thing to say, but it will help to speed that up.
You need someone to go before you and make all of those tough challenges of get phased.
That’s true a lot of times.
Maybe BeeHex will handle that for you. They have to be dealing with the same thing. The phrase coming in our mind right now is, “No legal controlling authority.” That’s really probably the situation right now. We also think you’re facing a challenge on the design side. You touched on it a little bit earlier. You have a design side where you have these chefs who may be very, very interested in it, whether it’s an at-home chef or a chef in a restaurant or bakery. The idea of computer skills in any way, shape, or form, even if it’s just drawing on a tablet, seems like a distraction from their day job. Having a design library of things, it’s the same problem we see in the retail 3D print industry as well. We just don’t see enough great designs as starters that get them to be inspired and interested in trying it themselves. That’s a slowing scale up in the overall 3D print industry, no matter whether it’s food or plastic or whatever. It could get outside of enthusiasts and those people who have the ability to do some of those things, but when you get to a commercial sense, it’s definitely a challenge.
I totally agree on that. That’s also why we see that we have to collaborate with people that do understand the boundaries of 3D food printing. Next to that, our challenges also are what ingredients can you print and what kind of food do people want to eat in the end. We also need chefs to think about recipes for food for the paste materials. Just putting a broccoli into a printer doesn’t really make sense. We have to think about flavors. We have to think about herbs. We’re not only collaborating on the design part with design academy students, but we’re also collaborating with chefs and with food experts to learn about what kind of food would people then eat when it’s 3D printed.
Talk about a multi-dimensional challenge. You maybe have to go one more level up too, because at the end of the day, especially if you think of big hospitality, big event spaces, resorts and hotels and spa restaurants and those things which are more likely to adopt that creative food model, you have to work with event promoters and planners because they actually guide the overall style of an event. It almost has to go one level up too.
We’re seeking all kinds of different partnerships in order to spread the word and to tell the world that 3D food printing is out there and together find the applications and markets for it.
We hope that we’re doing our job here of spreading the word for you. We just want to mention one more thing. You are extremely young compared to us, but you are a young CEO and you’re also partnered with another young CEO. We believe you said her company was called Femtech, is that right?
It’s called LifeSense, but they are in Femtech.
You started something called Women Tech Talks. We love the idea of that because we definitely need more women in technology and design. You guys are great role models for worldwide women in tech and design. What are you doing about that? Tell us a little bit about that.
First of all, thank you for the big compliment. I really appreciate it. What we are doing is we launched this event, Women Tech Talks, in April this year during Girls Day, which is in the Netherlands at least a day where girls go to companies to learn about what kind of jobs they can do in the future. Mostly they go to technology companies. What we saw was when these girls have to make a decision about what kind of schooling they’re going to after their high school, going into technology company where there is only men presenting a boring product on a boring department, no girl wants that. We really wanted to show those girls that technology can also be very inspiring and it’s growing very rapidly. There are many women in technology but they’re hidden. They are in HR functions or finance or they are the secretaries. We want to show that it’s very important as well for women to start working in technology, to show themselves that they are working in technology in order to also make the technology more accessible for women. It’s mainly now developed by men, but we also need technology that’s developed by women in order to tell the right story and to have women using more and more technology. During the Women Tech Talks we launched the event where ten girls or young women were presenting why they chose to work in technology, either as an engineer or as a CEO, in order to tell the story to young girls.
We call it here Take Your Daughter To Work Day, that’s how it’s known here in the US, and that’s in April usually every year. We don’t understand the possibilities. We get this a lot when we go out and we speak in places, especially when we meet young women. We just met an amazing young woman who was in architecture and wasn’t loving the whole, ‘you sit in front of the computer all day and handle regulations’ part of architecture, and she missed the creativity. When we were starting to talk about our experiences as a product designer and as a furniture designer, her eyes just lit up because she saw possibility. We think that’s really what we hope to bring to our daughters and to daughters everywhere, is if we can open up their eyes to the possibility of what’s out there, then the impact that they will have is so much greater.
That’s exactly what we want to show as well, so we’re definitely following up those Women Tech Talks, even to a broader range of young women as well in order to help them choose the next steps.
Please let us know how we can help you further that along for next year.
I will, but for now we still have to do some organizational things. We just have to spread the word that women in technology are awesome, and therefore we need to spread the word of how awesome our own companies are.
You have a lot of work to do in your own company and we appreciate that. Nina, thank you so much for joining us today and we really look forward to sharing this with our audience. We’re so glad you could share it with us.
Thanks a lot for the opportunity and looking forward to speak to you again.
Building Your Own Food 3D Printer – Final Thoughts
We had so much fun participating and even just being a fly on the wall listening to Nina. She got us thinking in so many different directions. Initially, we talked about that’s a really wide open market as an opportunity segment potential marketer to go into starting a new company. Certainly, food 3D printing has a lot less competitors and companies in it than any other kind of 3D printing, so we first thought, “Great opportunity, smart move.” We start talking more and learning more from her about they’re not in the US because the FDA takes a long time and of course distribution. All the challenges that they face even from scaling up manufacture from just making one 3D printer to be able to making thousands and make a profit margin. It does seem that going into food 3D printing, while there are clear market opportunities, they also have set themselves up with some inherent challenges that make it more difficult for a startup.
We see the same thing going on from startups all over, in 3D printing in general. People developing 3D printers have very similar challenges and we see the same thing again and again and again. It has us concerned because we don’t think they’re all approaching at the same way and part of us wonders whether or not that is the accelerator/incubator model that most of them seem to come out of. There are very few that have defied that process and succeeded. I would say Feetz is an example of it and Collider. There may be something because they both came out of the same incubator in Tennessee. They may have a model that’s different. Here’s what we see happening so often, is that the challenges that face the education process, which is always very daunting and very expensive in a new and emerging technology, if you spend the money and time to educate your market, you are not doing something else. When you’ve done that and you’ve successfully educated the market, you’re probably out of money and some competitor will swoop in and take over. It’s like the Betamax, VHS model. The lesson there is the best technology doesn’t always win. The ones who were first definitely don’t always win.
In Nina’s case, she has multiple challenges in that you have regulations, you have an audience of food culinary experts, restaurateurs, chocolatiers, or whatever they might be, who may be more tech challenged, they may not be very interested in the technology. They’re much more interested in the technology that surrounds the food that they already have, how they create that food. You have an audience that you have to get them excited about it. Then you have the challenges of multiple materials. Look at all the different types of foods and the different types of consistencies. That’s quite a big challenge in and of itself. Then you have the challenge of design in general. That’s where we see the biggest weak point happen for all the companies. No one gets any money to invest in the design side of things. They just say you can make anything you want.
It’s the big weak point but it’s also the big opportunity. We don’t see that being handled. In fact, even in the Feetz model, they solved that complicated material problem. They solved the one, two and three sections we were talking about, which is basically getting an audience of would they buy 3D printed shoes. They test-marketed it, they put it in DSW, they found a partner, and they were able to make that happen successfully, and not with early adopters. That is the big difference. They tested out mainstream market and they said the mainstream market is open to it because it still solves a problem for them, shoes that don’t fit, shoes that are uncomfortable. They solved the material problem in making the hybrid model of making the inner soles, the insides of the shoes, something more understandable and comfortable. Comfortable is the keyword there. But they have not solved the design side. At the end of the day, here we are, we’re avid shoe fans and avid 3D print enthusiasts, and we still haven’t bought one. That is because the fashion aspect is not there and we’re not about to wear shoes that we don’t think is gorgeous at the end of the day. That’s really where you start to fall apart in terms of overall making it all the way through to market.
They are resolving that at Feetz, but this is where you’re already dealing with a lot, as Nina was pointing out when you’re scaling up a company. They have to deal with the design for manufacturing, which they didn’t have capabilities and they didn’t have an experienced team in. You’re dealing with so many aspects of trying to grow your business that honestly if you’re not partnered with someone in each of those segments and growing them all up at the same time, there is no way to be able to address that except to get one thing under your belt and then move on to the next. It’s very interesting because we are designers and we often look at things through that lens first and think, “What a wonderful opportunity for individual restaurants to express their individuality, their uniqueness through the physical design and appearance of their food, not just the flavor.” It’s easy to say that but these restaurants have enough to do to make a successful restaurant just to make good tasting food and keeping up bodies in the door.
There’s a bigger problem that they have that this doesn’t necessarily solve for them. To learn the computer and how to print this stuff and all that and have unique design on top of it, it’s probably the last thing they would have time to do. Then what happens? They use off-the-shelf designs from the manufacturer from byFlow in this case who is providing designs for them. That’s great but then they’re not unique again, except for the taste. Eventually, the appearance of some of these designs will become more commoditized if everybody’s got them. We wonder if it really presents an opportunity for the larger food distributors, manufacturers, not restaurants but people that are distributing food in general, to have their own signature designs, or maybe the large chain restaurants. Can you imagine McDonald’s that then has some food that they sell that’s 3D printed locally at every store and it’s neat and unique and hopefully tastes good, at least to their customers, and then you’re going to have this unique look which they copyright that design or they design patent that thing. It’s actually only original if you get it there. It could be something that becomes a signature thing.
Take for instance, back in the ’80s the Chipwich was invented, which nobody calls it a Chipwich anymore, but you got an ice cream between two chocolate chip cookies. It was a completely new and unique thing and Chipwich was the brand. Now everybody has copied it and Trader Joe’s has a version and every ice cream company makes something like it, Nestlé even. There’s nothing really unique-looking about that anymore. It’s commodity. What if you could 3D print your own version that has a little more unique design? Maybe ice cream and cookie isn’t the best example here, but there could be a way to design a unique look of an item that not only the taste becomes unique to that brand but the appearance does through 3D printing. It could be a signature element that sets them apart.
You’ve got to think of it like an experience. That’s where they’re being held back a little bit because they have to work on the speed of their printer. If you can’t speed it up and make it an experience during your meal so that you don’t wait 50 minutes for your food, because that’s way too long in a restaurant. Thinking about the BeeHex model and how that they’re doing is that if you can speed that up and print that quickly enough to not only excite and capture the attention of kids watching their pizza being printed, but you get it to them in a reasonable timeframe so that they don’t drive their parents crazy because they’re starving, so you’ve solved all those things. A restaurant isn’t any good if you don’t turn your seats over at a certain pace. If it takes too long to turn your tables over, then you have higher expenses and lower revenue. Those are challenges as well.
It’s promising and it’s exciting, but it is also really, really big, daunting task to be entering this market, and have so much that you have to educate the different potential partners in the market. That’s why so many of those 3D food printers have gone high-end, because when you go high-end, there’s more appreciation for the art, for the experience, for being different, for being unique. That’s really why they’ve headed that way because it’s an easier ask in the marketplace. We do believe that there’s a huge opportunity. We just think that they look at that and they say the fastest way to profit is through the high-end. Really big companies are looking at this space. Even Amazon who we know has interest in 3D printing and they have some patents they had filed regarding it, now with their purchase of Whole Foods and getting into the food business, we wonder if a big player like that is really going to help move the needle on food 3D printing in a different way. Maybe for them, the reasons they would do it is more of the delivery model than it is the food experience.
One of the things that we think was fascinating that Nina has touched on is that the idea of waste. In a Whole Foods model, part of the reason why a lot of the food cost so much is that it’s perfect food. They buy top quality perfect-looking food. They display it in a perfect way. If there were bruised tomatoes, no one would buy them and they would be wasted. There are other parallels that we know and we’ve experienced to this in other industries, in other materials, in particular with furniture, which we have a lot of experience in. There is solid wood, which is expensive and best quality, and there’s engineered wood. There’s particle board. There’s medium-density fiber board where you actually chew up every single piece of the tree that otherwise is thrown away from cutting clean, knot-free wood out of it to use for furniture that gets chopped up and glued together to become pressed board, flake board, particle board, plywood, all sorts of different things, and they’re utilizing a lot more of the trees.
We can see there being a place for that with food, but we’re also remembering in the United States two years ago, there was this big backlash to these companies in Nebraska or wherever who were making these material out of the undesirable portions of red meat. The point was they were making use of every little piece of meat and using it, but when consumers found out, they thought they were passing off sub-par food, instead of having a better yield of food, which is really what it was about. If the market will accept it, and maybe the market will be forced to as we get close to eight billion people on this planet, because people are hungry and they’re going to eat food if it’s offered to them, we don’t know.
It comes back again to the presentation, the design of it. We end up right back there again, and in the McDonald’s model, if you could have the coolest designed chicken nuggets that have the latest superhero figurines, Marvel comes in and they do a partnership, they’re going to do their latest giveaway. If you could come in and have your character printed into chicken nuggets so your kid would eat them and it was total experience, think about how fun and cool that would be and make McDonald’s cool again. The parents are going to forgive that it isn’t unprocessed cut chicken right out of the solid meat, that it’s actually made from pieces and parts of chicken, if the kid is like, “I want that character and if you don’t give it to me, I’m going to scream my head off and I’m not going to eat a darn thing. I’m totally eating that. I want it.” Now you’ve created it as an experience, but again it comes back to having cool design that makes that desirable so that you overlook the other things about it and that you make it an experience.
Again, it comes back to having that model and brainstorming and figuring out what that is, and then creating it on behalf of that. We look at this in the world, we hear this all the time. Fiverr, Upwork, 99designs, and the latest one we’ve heard, Design Pickle, which is a subscription service for getting design work done, which they do a good job. Here you are in a place at which we still hear day in and day out, “I don’t know where to get my logo done. I don’t know where to go that I can trust.” It’s a cost factor. It’s not as much as, “I need to spend $5 on it,” because those people who need to spend $5 will, just go to Fiverr and spend that, but it’s a, “I don’t trust that I’m going to get great design at any price point.” If we don’t have a design model in which you know you can get great products that are solid and sound and not going to hurt children and be bad products in and of themselves, dangerous products, that’s an overall industry problem across every type of printer, food included.
We don’t want that to stop the progress and the development and all that great stuff that’s going on here. We applaud Nina and her brother and her father for forging ahead. We find it interesting how it was an accident and it found them. They weren’t necessarily trying to create a food 3D printer. To us, that speaks very well to what they’re doing and we really are excited for them. We certainly hope that they achieve success because it will be great for them and it will be great for the whole industry.
We’re going to keep you posted on what’s going on with byFlow. You can find pictures of various things, like some of the restaurant pop-up that she talked about and of course pictures of the printer and the multi-extruder on social media @3DStartPoint.
Thanks for listening. This has been Tom and Tracy on the WTFFF 3D Printing podcast.
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About Nina Hoff
Nina has a Bachelor in Management in Healthcare. She 3D Prints jewellery, flowerpots or cool wooden glasses for herself. She is only 25 years old but since September 2015 she is a CEO of byFlow. As a CEO she is responsible for strategy, partnerships, leading the team, finance, Supply Chain Management, etc. In 2016 she joined the Kairos Society, a global network of young entrepreneurs that are working on finding solutions to help solve world problems. She is trying to inspire young women to join a company in Tech or study technology, so she created a platform called: WomenTechTalks. It launched this on April 13th. Earlier this year she was featured in 3Dprint.com.
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