The Internet: that remarkable tool we use everyday to get the latest sights, sounds, and ideas.
But what about tastes? Yep, that too.
While replicating flavor through sensors is a ways off still from becoming the norm, one startup offers a simpler way to taste what’s online: 3D popsicles. Using its own 3D technology, Los Angeles-based Pixsweet can combine raw food materials (pureed fruit, sugar) with pretty much any image you grab online to create its frozen treats. Peruse the company’s Instagram page, and you’ll find popsicles at birthdays, weddings, and corporate events, rendered as unicorns, hastags, and sports logos.
That said, Pixsweet has bigger goals than simply charming partygoers with frozen pops.
Company co-founder Janne Kyttanen’s work in 3D printing goes all the way back to the 1990s (his latest stop before founding Pixsweet was as Creative Director for industry giant 3D Systems). Bringing the technology to people’s homes has always been a dream, though he realized early on that scalability and the cost of materials were roadblocks that wouldn’t be cleared overnight. So in 2016, he teamed up with serial entrepreneur Eduard Zanen and turned to a cheaper, more sustainable material: food.
The $3 trillion food-production market has a lot of brands but few players. By most estimates, a grand total of 10 companies control practically every major food and beverage brand in the world. That leaves very little room for smaller companies to compete; experimenting with materials, flavors, and shapes is cost prohibitive. Knowing all of this, Pixsweet started using 3D printing as a way to supply local stores with options that can be both affordable and more original than the average ice cream snack.
Why popsicles? “The shape of popsicles hasn’t changed in over 120 years,” Laura Kyttanen, Pixsweet’s head of marketing, explains. Most other sweet treats have altered at least a little, from gummy bears to the ill-fated lemon meringue Oreo. The Pixsweet folks quickly realized that, armed with 3D-printing technology, the same variety of shape and flavor could be done for popsicles.
Part of the reason this is possible is the simple process behind the product. For any given order, 3D technology connects to open APIs that allow users to choose and upload an image from anywhere online. Using a patent-pending 3D thermo-injection technology (3DTi), Pixsweet turns the raw material into popsicles at the rate of 1.3 seconds a pop. Right now you can order by batches of 100, and there may soon even be the option to get non-frozen shipments (another patent pending).
Widespread adoption with average consumers is a long-term goal, but in the meantime, Pixsweet stays busy making a name for itself in the event space. Whether it’s blind taste tests at art shows, showing up at Coachella, or doing collaborations with Warner Brothers, Pixsweet’s 3D-printed treats combine advertising with refreshments at a fraction of the cost most companies spend on just one of those at an event.
The branding, particular, is a huge part of Pixsweet’s overall mission. Kyttanen refers to it as “sensory branding,” and says the company’s goal is to introduce a new medium to the world of marketing: taste. “You’re basically able to add a new sense to your brand or anything you’re trying to communicate,” she says. “How does your brand taste?” is a question she often asks clients. This isn’t just a way to determine whether a company prefers strawberry to kale. Contemplating the taste of your brand forces you to carefully consider what it’s really about. In other words, you can’t just hit autopilot and regurgitate the company mission statement; you have to understand your business on a much deeper level.
“A lot of times as a company, you spend a big amount of money on marketing and branding,” she adds. “Now you can do that with this food product and go viral without spending as much as you would on an advertisement.”
Maybe taste it the new online frontier. So whether you’re throwing a music festival or planning a Bar Mitzvah, consider what your next event might taste like if it were rendered in ice and choose your flavor accordingly.
If you want to taste a Pixsweet popsicle, make sure to come to the Smart Kitchen Summit, where Pixsweet is one of 15 Startup Showcase finalists. Use discount code SPOON to get 25% off of tickets.