Imagine, say, five years from now, you sit down to eat at a restaurant. There’s a machine on the table, but it’s not one of those miniature jukeboxes that, for some reason, exist. It’s a third-generation food 3D printer, and this version is small enough to fit on the tabletop without getting too much the way of you or your party. You enter the exact specifications for your desired meal into the restaurant’s app. Once you click “Place Order”, your food is printed right there at the table. You get up and leave once you’re done eating. The entire time, neither your party nor any other customer in the restaurant encounters a single human being who works there.
The above scenario is obviously a long way from happening in reality. Nevertheless, Israeli 3D printed food company SavorEat might’ve just taken the very first baby step towards bringing such a state-of-affairs into the world. It is now deploying its recently-unveiled Robot Chef system at a limited number of locations at the Israeli burger chain BBB. The machine uses cartridges filled with mixtures of potato, chickpea, and pea protein to print vegan-friendly burgers in about six minutes. Patrons can customize their orders to control the fat and protein levels of their meals.
In a comment to the Israeli business publication Globes, SavorEat cofounder and CEO Racheli Vizman said, “From the beginning we believed that the food industry is in need of significant changes in order to remain relevant. …With the help of the unique partners we have chosen, we believe we will achieve these goals and reach international commercialization.”
Ahuva Turgeman, CEO of BBB, added, “The idea that for the first time ever, a customer can come to a meat-oriented hamburger restaurant, and with a push of a button on an app order a juicy, digitally manufactured, vegan burger is nothing short of revolutionary and creates an extraordinary and unforgettable experience.”
In addition to BBB, the “unique partners” mentioned by SavorEat CEO Vizman include food service company Yarzin Sella — a supplier for Israeli tech firms — as well as the French company Sodexo, in a deal that will see SavorEat serving its burgers at colleges in the United States. The chairman and chief scientist of SavorEat, Oded Shoseyov, told Reuters that the company is also working on plant-based pork breakfast sausage for the U.S. market, making this at least the second company in recent months to be working on 3D printed pork, along with CellX in China.
While it’s not as far along yet commercially as other industries, like aerospace or automobiles, 3D printed food has perhaps more potential to upend the markets relevant to its applications than in any other field in which 3D printing is currently being developed. This is usually acknowledged concerning production processes, but it is certainly equally true about food distribution. This is the case particularly in highly industrialized nations such as the U.S., where at least a third of males and almost two-thirds of women work in the food services industry.
In this sense, at this point, it’s perhaps the consumer and labor markets that will have to see fundamental changes to their composition more so than the technology involved. That is, the technology seems to be nearly ready; what’s needed is for large segments of the population to embrace 3D printed food, as well as a plan regarding how to compensate/retrain the enormous numbers of laborers that automated, digitally produced food would ultimately replace, if adopted on a large scale. If macroeconomic solutions to those problems can be discovered, the scenario described at the beginning of this post will, more and more, seem less like something described in a Philip K. Dick novel.
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