Towards the end of last year, I attended the IGD Leading Edge Annual Conference. During the day, one of the presentations was on an amazingly innovative ‘3D food printer’. People spoke about this like it was ‘the best thing since sliced bread’, so as I’m sure you can imagine, I was intrigued to say the least. One of the key selling points of this printing machine was when you leave work you can tell it to start printing and by the time you get home your food is ready to go. Sounds great, right? Well someone forgot to read the fine print out loud. When you get home, yes, your food has been printed, but you still have to cook it!
If you get home from a busy day at work and put your freshly printed pastry in the oven for 20 minutes, is that really any different to coming home and opening a ready-made pie purchased from your local convenience store?
Again, trying to give the speaker the benefit of the doubt I continued to listen, but I have to admit things quickly went further downhill from there for me as they explained the methodology for getting the food in to the printer.
As I’m sure it’s no shock to most, the printer works like most ever day households printers; cartridges. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! For this to work, you have to cook and blend your food, before loading this ‘now baby food’ in to your cartridges, all before you leave for work. I have to ask, why would anyone want or need to blend a carrot to then print it out, so it looks like a carrot. The whole concept just went from printed when I walked in the door, to cook it when I walk in the door - to get up early to blend my dinner, load my printer and then cook it when I get in the door.
In a world of restaurant deliveries, microwave meals and a take away on every corner what does convenience really mean? Is it not having to cook? Being able to shop 24/7? Your food being ready when you walk in the door? Or all of the above?
For me, convenience is about being able to pick up the food I fancy on my way home from work, cook it in 20 minutes or less and enjoy a nice meal for not too much of a cost. However, I appreciate everyone's answers will be different and that's the challenge the food and retail industry faces.
Don't get me wrong as a person with a very scientific mind the technology behind the 3D printer is fascinating, I just think the label applied is wrong. It is more a tool to improve consistency and precision of an item. The machine is already being used in hospitals where patients can't eat solid food, but don't want to eat puréed baby food - great idea. Do I believe it has a place in the market? Yes. I just don't think that place is on my kitchen side!