In the following video, 3-D printing specialist Steve Heller interviews Liz von Hasseln, creative director of food products at 3D Systems (NYSE:DDD) and co-founder of The Sugar Lab, a 3-D printing company specializing in 3-D printed confections. Last September, 3D Systems purchased The Sugar Lab and will launch two confectionary 3-D printers later this year, the ChefJet and ChefJet Pro, as a result of the acquisition.
Topics covered include:
- How The Sugar Lab became 3D Systems' food business
- How 3D Systems may have underestimated 3-D printed food
- Understanding 3D Systems' 3-D printed food opportunity
- The future of 3-D printed food at 3D Systems
- How 3D Systems improves the novelty image around 3-D printed food
A full transcript follows the video.
Steve Heller: Hey Fools, Steve Heller here. I'm joined with a very special guest, Liz von Hasseln of 3D Systems, head of The Sugar Lab. Sugar 3-D printing is an up-and-coming field. I was going to ask some questions today, and thank you for your time, we really appreciate it. Congratulations on joining 3D Systems, I think that's great.
Liz von Hasseln: Thank you very much, I'm thrilled. I appreciate it.
Heller: Great. I want to know about the integration process. How did you go from a mom-and-pop shop into the 3D Systems ecosystem and using their technology, if you can give some color on that?
von Hasseln: Absolutely, good question. We were actually using their technology the whole way through, so it was a very natural fit. What made us really comfortable about the integration is that we became more and more aware that our visions for 3-D printing really lined up exceedingly well.
3D Systems is really interested in democratizing 3-D printing, and that's something that Kyle -- my husband and I; we co-founded The Sugar Lab -- we feel really strongly about that too. We see 3-D printing sugar as a way for more folks to become involved in the technology, which we think is really cool, in a way that maybe they wouldn't have before. Food is a real common denominator, and it brings more people into the conversation.
Once we found out that we felt so similarly about 3-D printing -- we were both passionate about the same things, and the same directions that we wanted this new segment of 3-D printing to go -- then it really became a complete win/win. We're thrilled to be a part of 3D Systems.
Heller: Was it a tough development process to migrate it over to more of a streamlined product from -- probably what you had was more of a hacked solution?
von Hasseln: Originally, you're right, we were retrofitting 3D Systems' existing technology to work well with sugar. But developing a consumer product that was able to let other people 3-D print in sugar was always something that we really wanted to do.
Working with 3D Systems allowed us to develop this machine, the ChefJet, as you mentioned, from the ground up to be compatible with food, and kitchen certified, and all the things that are important for it today.
Heller: How long did that take, that whole process?
von Hasseln: It won't be released until the second half of this year, so it's really ongoing but we debuted it at CES in January. That was really only a few months after we joined the company, so the time scale has been very quick.
Heller: That's very interesting. 3D Systems, one of their abilities is to take a product and be able to integrate it into their portfolio very quickly.
von Hasseln: Absolutely, yes.
Heller: I wanted to move on now; reception of 3-D printed food ... how has reception been? How has interest been so far?
von Hasseln: It's been amazing. It's really been overwhelmingly positive. I think, if anything, we underestimated the extent to which people were really primed to embrace it. 3-D printing is coming into the public consciousness more and more, and I think folks are really ready to see how it can apply to their own lives.
Food is such an intimate part of your live, and how you celebrate, and how you interact with people that are special to you, that I think it's really easy to see how that applies to you -- which I think is one of the big strengths of the project.
Moving on now to the target market; I wondered if you had an idea of -- obviously confectioners, bakeries are going to love your product. I see wedding designers all over your product, caterers, absolutely.
von Hasseln: Absolutely.
Heller: Where else do you see the opportunity right now, with just the existing line that's coming out, the ChefJet and the ChefJet Pro? If you have an idea of size -- maybe just number of opportunities, or maybe a dollar number -- if you have any sort of figure you're targeting, I would love to hear about that.
von Hasseln: Sure. It might be too early for specifics about the market, but I can definitely talk about our target audience.
We really see the ChefJet and the ChefJet Pro as professional grade kitchen equipment, so we're looking at it for professional bakers -- pastry chefs, as you mentioned -- also hotel owners, restaurateurs ...
Heller: ... Michelin Star restaurants.
von Hasseln: Exactly. Cruise ships, molecular gastronomists, mixologists -- high-end bars -- really, anywhere that people are interested in customization and embellishment, and investing in that as part of a celebration.
Those are all things that 3-D printing is really good at, so those will be places where the ChefJet will add a lot of value.
Heller: Very good. Next, I wanted to move on to the future of 3D printed food. Today we're talking about sugar, we're talking about chocolate. When are we actually going to talk about real meals?
von Hasseln: It's a good question, and that's something that we're definitely very interested in. We see sugar and sweets in general as a really good place to start 3-D printing food, for some of the reasons we've already talked about. Dessert is already kind of a designed object, so it's a place that values all those embellishments and customizations.
But I definitely think there's a lot of potential beyond sweets for 3-D printing food, and we're going to keep experimenting with different food substrates. I'm really more of a salty person than a sweet person, which is a bit ironic! So, I can't wait until we get into some savory recipes, some spicy recipes. I think that's going to be really exciting.
Heller: Very good. I guess the other thing is improving the image of 3-D printed food. I think a lot of people look at it ... they're a little bit critical of using 3-D printed food in their lifestyle, or adopting it. I wanted to know, what are you doing to improve that image, and the conversation around that?
von Hasseln: This is a great question, and one we've thought a lot about. I think 3-D printing food experiments in the past have been a little bit more of a novelty, more for the experimentation of it -- which is totally cool.
What we're trying to do is really make it available as a consumer product, and one that can add value to people's business models, can add applications and capabilities to what artisans and innovators already are doing.
These pastry chef and all the folks we've been talking about are true artists and innovators, in their own right, and we're really just hoping that this is another tool in their toolbox, that they can use to make amazing things and be artisans.
I think when 3-D printing becomes really culturally relevant and powerful is when it becomes culturally relevant in an artisan way, when you see artists implementing it.
Heller: We're very much in the early stages of this.
von Hasseln: I think so, but I can't wait to see what pastry chefs do when they get their hands on this. I think it's going to be amazing.
Heller: Great. Thank you so much for your time today.
von Hasseln: Thank you, I appreciate it.
Steve Heller owns shares of 3D Systems and ExOne. The Motley Fool recommends 3D Systems, ExOne, and Stratasys. The Motley Fool owns shares of 3D Systems, ExOne, and Stratasys. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.