I spoke at length to BeeHex CMO Jordan French to discover more details about the company’s plans, and the result is quite promising.
BeeHex produces a very peculiar 3D printer – one that prints only pizzas! Yes, it’s a food printer.
I’ve been extremely skeptical of food printers for a number of reasons that I detailed in a previous post. You can read the story yourself, but the bottom line is that 3D food printers are essentially impractical for consumer use today and for the foreseeable future.
That analysis suggests that the 10-month old BeeHex might be entering the wrong market, but when I discussed this with French I was pleasantly surprised to find they have come to the same conclusion.
BeeHex started as an offshoot of a NASA project to experiment with methods of automatically preparing food for astronauts. Evidently pizza was selected as the target food because it’s simply the most popular food choice among everyone involved. The result was a prototype 3D pizza printer, which morphed into BeeHex.
BeeHex performed a number of marketing surveys to determine how best to deploy their machine. Eventually, they turned to packaged food manufacturers and discovered something quite interesting.
Most packaged pizza makers utilize manual labor to produce the delicious pies, but as a result they can suffer from a variety of challenges: speed of production, consistency of product and general labor administrative burden. In fact, BeeHex says that 47% of the cost of producing a packaged pizza is labor alone.
And thus became their target market: packaged pizza manufacturers, who can benefit from BeeHex’s technology by providing a way to consistently produce quality products without the variability and cost of manual labor. They’re hoping to market a suitable machine to such customers for something less than USD$25K per machine, which is maybe less than the cost of a human for a year.
But they’re not yet finished developing their machine. They are working on the ability to vary the components as the pizzas are printed. So, for example, you could program the device to produce 17 pepperoni’s, 8 with fresh cut green peppers and 3 with extra cheese, for example. This would provide the manufacturer with a great deal of control over their own production line.
Currently it’s pretty early for BeeHex, but they are in deep discussions with several larger food operations in hopes of landing deals.
And it’s not just dedicated food manufacturers that might make use of this technology. Consider a large grocery chain that wishes to make their own specialty pizzas onsite in stores; they’d need only add one of these machines to their bakery. Another example could be a sports stadium or arena, where a huge number of pizzas must be produced quickly.
If BeeHex makes a go of this, it’s quite possible they may branch out into other kinds of industrial food production machines using 3D technology.