By Melissa Francis
In 2016, the global 3D Food Printing Market was worth $8.75 million USD and is expected to reach $432.21 million USD by 2025, growing 54.23% year-on-year between 2017 to 2025.
In Japan’s 3D printed food market specifically, one company has stood out from the crowd. Sushi Singularity takes ordering sushi to the next level through its partnership with OPEN MEALS to take biological samples from patrons to create unique creations based on individual requirements. This technology was showcased at SXSW 2019 and was received with great interest.
What does Japan’s 3D printed food market look like?
There are various reasons as to why 3D printed food is culturally relevant in Japan. First of all, the Japanese culture is very receptive to technology in various aspects of life, so 3D printed food is a trendy topic. Secondly, Japanese people generally appreciate efficiency, cost-effectiveness and convenience. Replacing human labour with technology isn’t usually perceived as scary or being too futuristic. Thirdly, one of the largest social issues in Japan is the ageing population, and both the government and companies are struggling to secure cheap labour.
With there being more elderly people, it also means there is a greater need for services catering towards them. 3D printing technology in the food and service industries can aid Japan massively, especially in places like retirement homes and hospitals.
Case Study: Natural Machines
European companies are faring especially well on a global scale. Natural Machines is a Spanish company focusing on developing technology that 3D prints food. Natural Machines is one of the top ten global companies operating in this sub-sector of 3D printing, working with customers in 90 countries around the world. They expanded into Japan’s 3D printed food market in order to provide a growing number of customers with their Foodini 3D food printer.
Japan’s 3D printed food market in focus: Interview with Emilio Sepulveda from Natural Machines
Tokyoesque caught up with CEO & Co-Founder of Natural Machines, Emilio Sepulveda, to find out how business is going, where he sees 3D printed food heading, and to hear about his experiences navigating Japan.
Who are your typical customers?
Emilio: “Professionals, including hotels, restaurants, schools, research centres, food brands, caterers, hospitals and elderly care centres. In general, professionals that need some sort of personalization for their customers.”
Why did Japan’s 3D printed food market particularly appeal to you as an expansion opportunity?
Emilio: “We are quite successful with elderly care and early adopters. Japan has a clear case of ageing population and is eager to adopt new technologies. Japan also has a high per capita rent and is a natural door for getting into other Asia Pacific markets.”
What challenges have you experienced in the Japanese market?
Emilio: “The business culture is different and you have to get used to it. Things happen slowly as you’re getting to know each other and then faster in the implementation phase so you have to adapt. The fact that everybody has to agree before signing anything and the fact that trust must be trust built is a challenge, compared to Europe where you only need to convince the decision. There are advantages considering the implementation stage is faster, while in Europe you have to persuade everybody after signing or you risk stalling.”
What lessons have you learned from working in Japan?
Emilio: “The business regulations are different, the overall culture is different, personal / business life balance is different…many things are different so one must re-learn how to do business. On the other side of the coin, people are a bit less conservative with regards to technology and are willing to try new things and explore new options.”
Are you partnering with any local companies outside of Japan’s 3D printed food market?
Emilio: “We are currently making progress with Hankyu, Dentsu and Yomiuri. We also have some customers like the Kyoto Design Lab, which is close to Osaka.”
What are your primary goals for growing within the market?
Emilio: “We only set up local offices if it makes sense from the point of view of revenue. That means that our goals are to generate enough traction, which may mean having enough customers, partners etc. So for us, it’s about building up trust with enough customers and partners to ensure we can be successful.”
Do you have any advice for brands looking to expand to Japan based on your own experience?
Emilio: “Patience is a must. Don’t expect things to happen overnight. And having a partner interested in your business from day one is the best way to start. In our case we found opportunities in Japan (or they found us) through StartupBootcamp Osaka.”
What’s next for the business?
Emilio: “In our case, our goal is to make Foodini a common kitchen appliance, so we are pushing to have a device in the market that not only prints but also cooks, having the ability to replace something that already exists today in the kitchen. What we are doing is bringing a food factory into the home, allowing everybody to create their own foods on demand when they want to consume them.”
What type of food or dish is most 3D printed with Foodini, and why?
Emilio: “There’s no single food or dish that’s printed most often, as it depends on the country (culture), personal needs (diet, nutrition, textures), time of day (leisure, eating), etc. You can print things as common as a pizza or a burger but while knowing exactly what’s inside as well as more sophisticated foods and fun appetizers. It’s a bit like asking what the most popular food in a supermarket is.”
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