A drink printed by Selffee.

A couple of years ago on a plane ride to Las Vegas for CES, I struck up a conversation with a guy sitting next to me by the name of Nathan Shields. When I asked Nathan what he does for a living, he told me “I make pancake art.”

Like many dads who make flapjacks for the kids, I consider myself something of an amateur pancake artist, but as I soon found out, Nathan’s work goes way beyond the Death Star and Mickey Mouse cakes I’ve made for my kids on Saturday morning.

Of course, we know food as an artistic and messaging medium is nothing new. All one has to do is watch an episode of The Final Table to understand the potential of food as a form of artistic expression. But Nathan’s work got me thinking about food as a medium for communication.

My thinking that was further sparked when I went to the opening press event in Vegas and saw a gigantic ice sculpture with the CES logo. This ice sculpture is there every year at CES, and it’s always a pretty cool sight, in part because there’s something fascinating about using a temporary medium like ice as a branding vehicle.

I was reminded of the CES sculpture a week ago when I saw an Instagram post by Scott Heimendinger. Scott, who is the technical director for Modernist Cuisine, can usually be found doing something crazy with food, and so while I wasn’t all that surprised to see him laser etching ice cubes, it made me wonder anew about the possibility of food to communicate ideas.

Photo: @SeattleFoodGeek

While ice is perhaps the most temporal of “food” items in that it’s only going to last hours if not minutes, the idea itself of food as a way to communicate is one I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. The early success of companies like Selffee or Ripples, both companies which print in real-time on food at events, are proof that food itself is a fairly underutilized medium for highly personalized marketing and personal messaging.

The CEO of Selffee, David Weiss, told me recently that they’ve worked at over 200 events this year, including at this year’s Super Bowl where they printed customized pictures on about 60 thousand marshmallows. Weiss also told me how they’d spent practically zero on marketing because the product – essentially a food-based selfie – markets itself (and the message printed on top) in an age of Instagram and social media.

Which is part of the reason I wanted him at our upcoming FoodTech Live event in Vegas (as well as the fact I just want my face printed on a cookie). And while David and his team likely won’t be printing on 60 thousand marshmallows, they will hopefully be printing hundreds of faces and other personalized requests on cookies on January 8th. We’ll also have Ripples printing on drinks as well.

If you’re headed to CES in Vegas in January, and you want to have your face or logo printed on food – not to mention the opportunity to check out over forty interesting foodtech companies – you’ll want to make sure to RSVP for our FoodTech Live event as well.

Of course, it’s not just food itself that is evolving as the messaging medium, but the packaging itself. This week Jenn Marston wrote about how prog rock band The Lights Out recently teamed up with craft brewer Aeronaut brewery to release their new album on the side of a beer can. The “album” came in the form of a Spotify digital album and was accessible to the purchaser of a can of Aeronaut IPA via a scannable QR code.

Packaged food brands have experimented with electronic messaging integrations for the last couple of years, but a digital album is a new wrinkle. While I don’t expect to see the next U2 album released via a package of Jimmy Dean sausage links, it might be interesting to see where the idea of digital distribution via food packaging goes in the future.

This week had lots of other interesting news, including a recent patent issued to Amazon for personalized restaurant recommendations. The patent, issued just yesterday, describes a system that utilizes contextual information such as a person’s past behavior, their location and information from their social graph to suggest restaurant recommendations and possible reservations. Combine this recent patent with the Amazon patent issued earlier in the year for predictive restaurant ordering, and you have to wonder if Amazon is cooking up a next-generation restaurant reservation and delivery marketplace to compete with the likes of OpenTable.

There was also some good news coming out of NYC this week in the form of a reopening of the Pilotworks Brooklyn facility under new management. The location was shuddered along with all of Pilotworks locations over a month ago when the shared kitchen startup abruptly shut down, instantly putting hundreds of indie food entrepreneurs without a kitchen home. The facility, reopened and managed by Nursery, has offered to welcome back all of the previous food business operators.

You won’t want to miss our latest episode of the Smart Kitchen Show, which features a conversation from the Smart Kitchen Summit between the Wall Street Journal’s Wilson Rothman and Malachy Moynihan. Malachy was the head of product for both the first Amazon Echo and the Juicero, and he shares insights about product success and failure from these two vastly different products.

That’s it for now. Have a great week.


Updates from the Spoon

Video: Soggy Food Sucks Uses Thermodynamics to Keep your Fries Crisp During Delivery
Watch founder Bill Birgen’s winning pitch at the 2018 Smart Kitchen Summit Startup Showcase. His company Soggy Food Sucks uses condensation wicking to keep food crisp and crunchy (and decidedly not soggy), even after delivery.

InnovoPro Raises $4.25M to Bulk Up its Chickpea Protein
You’re hard-pressed to find a space undergoing more innovation right now than protein. In addition to soy, whey, wheat, pea and even cricket-based protein varietals, chickpeas are also making waves — and the Israel-based InnovoPro announced yesterday that it has raised $4.25 to bulk up its garbanzo protein.

Good Dot Paves Way for Plant-Based Meats in India with Vegan “Mutton”
Plant-based meat companies are largely based in two continents: Europe and North America. One company working to change that is Good Dot, a startup making plant-based meats, as their website states, “in India, for India, by India.”

Beast Mode: Chirp’s Launches Kickstarter for Cricket Protein Powder
For openminded bodybuilders who want to get ripped, there’s a new type of protein powder out ready for you to chug it down on the way to your morning CrossFit shred sesh. Today Chirps, the San Francisco-based company which makes insect chips in flavors like Sriracha and BBQ, launched a Kickstarter for its newest product: cricket protein powder.

Amazon Patents Personalized Restaurant Suggestions. Could a Reservation Platform be Next?
Michael Wolf stumbled upon a patent by Amazon for a personalized restaurant suggestion system. The patent will suggest restaurants to individuals based on their behavior, family and friends network, and specfic time-based events (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc.)

Pilotworks’ NY Space Re-born as Nursery, Invites Former Tenants Back
The team at Chew announced today that it is opening a new food and beverage incubator called Nursery in the former Pilotworks Brooklyn location, and will invite back all former tenants to the space.

Kroger Expands Home Chef Meal Kit Sales in Walgreens Drug Stores
Kroger and Walgreens are building on a pilot program launched in October that has Kroger selling both grocery items and its Home Chef meal kits in Walgreens drug stores. Walgreens will carve out a “Kroger Express” area in some of its stores, and Kroger will also try selling Home Chef meal kits in select Walgreens locations.

Eat My Face! How One Entrepreneur Found Meaning By Printing Faces On Cookies
Entrepreneur David Weiss pivoted from being a wholesale sweater salesman to co-founding a company that prints photos (specifically selfies) on cookies and drinks. The best part: they basically market themselves.

A Prog-Rock Band Is Releasing an Album On a Spotify-Coded Beer Can
With the help of Aeronaut brewery, Boston-based band The Lights Out will soon release an album on a beer can. Again. The prog-rock outfit worked with the Somerville, Mass. brewery in 2017 on a similar concept, releasing their album T.R.I.P. via a 16-ounce can of beer.

Chewse Raises $19M for Family Style Corporate Catering
Chewse has raised $19 million to expand its corporate catering services, bringing the total amount raised by the startup to more than $30 million. There is no shortage of corporate catering services, especially in Chewse’s home base in the Bay Area, but Chewse hopes to differentiate itself with its “family-style” meals.

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