3D printed confections from a 3D Systems food printer

When 3D Systems signaled an entry into the 3D food printing market with the acquisition of Sugar Labs in 2013, many in the world of tech got excited.  And why not? Not only was this a sign that one of the 3D printing world’s biggest players was about to throw its weight and resources behind perhaps the most underdeveloped category in 3D printing, but is also meant that we’d maybe soon have cool stuff to print at home other than cheap plastic.

And at first, the company’s early moves only fed the excitement of foodtech and 3D printing enthusiasts around the world. By the next year they’d announced the ChefJet Pro, and soon they were at CES in 2014 printing out confections and talking up a 2015 ship date.

But before long, the enthusiasm faded and signals that ChefJet’s development was stalled became more and more frequent. The company’s initial plans of a 2015 ship date came and went, and eventually the ChefJet Pro and the category of culinary printing almost impossible to find on the company’s website. Throw in a little management trouble and eventually one had to wonder: would the company ever follow through and bring the product to market?

The answer looks like yes, but not without a little help. That’s because this past week the company announced an a new partnership with CSM Bakery Solutions, a large provider of baking ingredients, supplies and technologies.

In a vaguely worded joint press release, the two companies announced what looks to be an exclusive development and licensing partnership.

From the release:

The global agreement allows the two industry leaders to join forces to bring innovative and creative 3D printed culinary products to the market. CSM will support the development of and have exclusive rights to utilize 3D Systems’ ChefJet Pro 3D printer for high-resolution, colorful food products for the professional culinary environment.

In other words, it looks like 3D Systems is essentially creating what looks like a joint venture with CSM to finally bring the ChefJet Pro to market.  While you could possibly quibble with the meaning of “high-resolution, colorful food products for the professional culinary environment”, it looks to me like CSM has exclusive rights to the ChefJet Pro in the professional market. And, since the ChefJet Pro doesn’t look like it will be coming out in a home version anytime soon, this effectively means the company has exclusive rights to the ChefJet Pro period.

What does this mean?

On one hand I think it’s good, since other than an article about the Culinary Institute of America’s work with ChefJet Pro prototypes a year ago, there has been no update on the the status from 3D Systems about the ChefJet Pro in two and a half years. With this news, we know 3D Systems has not completely given up on the ChefJet Pro and that, eventually, it will come to market.

We also know from this news that the company decided it needed help in bringing the product to market. While I’m sure part of the rationale is to let CSM help fund any remaining development of the product, I also think they probably realized they needed to tap into the expertise of a large baking goods product company since, after all, that’s the the target market for the ChefJet Pro.

And lastly, while it looks like the probability of a ChefJet for the home doesn’t look good at this point, the wording of press release seems to indicate that 3D Systems has retained rights to a consumer product. So while a home ChefJet doesn’t look like it’s in the offing anytime soon, as Jim Carrey said in Dumb and Dumber, “you’re telling me there’s a chance.”

Bottom line, while some big food companies are exploring the possibilities of 3D printing, we are still very much in the research and exploration phase of this market. With that in mind, I’ll take it as a positive that one of 3D printing’s biggest company’s is slowly but surely moving towards commercializing a 3D food printer, even if it has to do it with the help of a friend.

Update 8/21/17: Liz von Hasseln, Culinary Creative Director and the cofounder of Sugar Lab (which 3D Systems acquired in 2013 to start their food printing division) emailed me with the following statement:

“Our partnership with CSM is focused on bringing the ChefJet Pro to market. Essentially, CSM will be manufacturing the food materials that the printer uses, and 3D Systems will be manufacturing the printer itself. At launch, CSM will handle sales for both. The exclusivity refers to their right to sell the system exclusively–it does not effect its availability.”

While I was right about CSM’s exclusivity, this information from von Hasseln sheds additional light on the deal. CSM clearly sees a new opportunity to extend its baking supplies and ingredient business into printed food, while 3D Systems will rely on CSM as the primary channel to market.

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