AMS Spring 2023

Sugar 3D Printing Gets New Lease on Life via Currant 3D

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Since its invention was made public in 2013, sugar 3D printing has wowed onlookers with the ability to create intricate, geometrically complex, full-color objects that taste as sweet as they look. However, the technology has been on a bumpy ride, getting acquired by 3D Systems that same year, then quietly put on the back burner until it was picked up again by U.S. bakery ingredient manufacturer Brill Inc. Now, just as Brill experiences its own corporate journey, the sugar 3D printing technology has landed back in the hands of its inventor, Kyle von Hasseln.

Currant 3D Buys Back Food 3D Printing Tech

Along with Currant 3D cofounder Meagan Bozeman, von Hasseln has repurchased the technology under the Currant 3D brand. This will give the California-based company the ability to continue 3D printing food products, as well as selling printers and supplies. The company was able to acquire the technology with $5 million from investors in May 2022. With a post-funding evaluation of $16 million, Currant 3D aims to scale up operations. Bozeman explained the strategy to Tech Crunch:

“After Kyle developed his culinary 3D printer, it was quickly acquired by 3D Systems, where he and I teamed up to create and run the Culinary Technology division that built the CURRANT 3D Printer from scratch. We left 3D Systems in 2019, backed by our investor group, to found our company and quickly became the largest purchaser of the 3D printing technology. When an opportunity to acquire the tech arose this year, we went back to our investor network, which was hugely supportive, and raised capital to wholly acquire the CURRANT 3D Printer platform. We’re extremely proud and grateful that the technology is back in the hands of its original inventors and champions. This has put us in complete control of our future; we’re 3D printing food faster than ever, expanding into a much larger commercial kitchen where we will manage a 20+ printer fleet for this next rapid growth chapter, and enabling others to build their own 3D production kitchens through the purchase of our printers and supplies.”

Sugar Lab’s 3D printed Koreatown collection.

Currant 3D’s technology was first developed by von Hasseln and his wife, Liz, under the boutique food 3D printing firm, Sugar Lab, in 2013. A form of binder jetting, the process sees a water jetted onto a bed of dehydrated food powder or powdered sugar to produce a three-dimensional part. Using food-safe ingredients, these prints can be made in vibrant palette of full color. Additionally, a variety of flavoring can be added to create novel taste experiences.

Sugar 3D Printing’s Rocky Road

The firm was scooped up by 3D Systems under the spending spree of former CEO Avi Reichental. Like many of the companies bought during that time, it held significant promise, but no full commercialization. That is, until 2019, when 3D Systems made a deal with Brill to market the technology. As recently as 2020, the Brill Culinary Studio was still “powered by 3D Systems,” but that tagline was dropped by at least March 2021. It’s unclear from SEC filings exactly when 3D Systems unloaded the assets related to its Culinary 3D Printing division. Brill continued marketing the machine on its website as recently as February 27, 2022, just ahead of the deal to sell it back to its inventor.

Formerly the “Brill 3D Culinary Studio powered by 3D Systems,” now called the CURRANT 3D Printer. Image courtesy of Currant 3D.

Brill itself is undergoing changes that may have caused it to drop the unique technology from its portfolio. Established in 1928, Brill was bought by CSM Ingredients in 2018, perhaps explaining its foray into 3D printed foods the following year. Before Brill could get the technology off the ground, however, it was acquired by Rise Baking Company, which is in turn owned by Olympus Partners.

An array of edible garnishes 3D printed using Currant 3D’s food 3D printing technology. The garnishes are inspired by Coming 2 America. Image courtesy of Brill and Local Three.

All of this is to say that the food ingredient business may be in a bit of an upheaval at the moment, likely due to supply chain issues. We’ve seen supplies of products like grain negatively impacted by a combination of factors, including global warming-driven drought and the war in Ukraine. This, in turn, had knock-on effects for food stuffs and economies globally.

Growing Beyond Sugar 3D Printing

Now, Currant 3D has become the owner of what may be the only NSF-certified, commercial-scale 3D printers. From the looks of the firm’s website, it is ready to move beyond sugar, perhaps a limiting factor placed on the technology by Brill. Though the technology has primarily been used to show off sugar-based products, any powdered food could feasibly be printed, including “dehydrated fruit, vegetable, mushroom, plant protein, flour, or spice,” according to the Currant 3D website.

A 3D printed wasabi egg made by chef Mei Lin. Image courtesy of 3D Systems and Mei Lin.

This opens Currant 3D up to much larger possibilities—and just in time. While powder-based food 3D printing languished under ownership by 3D Systems and Brill, 3D printed plant and animal proteins began to take off. Surely the Currant 3D team has been following these trends and developing its own products behind closed doors. How powdered plant proteins can factor into savory end products is difficult to determine at this point. We know that Sugar Lab has offered 3D printed bullion cubes, but the possibilities likely extend much further.

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