Lunch & Learn with Dovetailed: 3D printing edible fruit

That’s right, 3D printing edible fruit! Our fascinating Lunch and Learn session with Dovetailed.

August’s Lunch & Learn session was one about which I was especially excited: Dovetailed, a Cambridge-based UX studio and innovation lab, was to come and give a talk and live demo of 3D-printing. Big whoop, some of you more cynical Tesco colleagues may cry: ‘3D printing’s been around for ages – we all know you can 3D-print plastic dolls in your own likeness, and other stuff of questionable usefulness.’

Fair enough, I’d say – except that these guys don’t print plastic stuff: they print fruit…edible fruit!

The concept began from work that Gabriel, Dovetail’s Chief Innovator, had done at Oxford for his dPhil: using a 3D printer to create mimics of biological tissue without using living cells. However, another use for this technology soon emerged. Gabriel says: “The aim of the project was to print something that behaved a bit like a tissue, but personally, when I saw these things, I thought, ‘they look delicious!’”.

Gabriel saw many similarities between the structures he’d created, and fruit. His creations were composed of water droplets separated by very thin membranes – almost like soap bubbles, with a very thin film between them.

An orange, for example, is also made of lots of liquid compartments separated by thin membranes – not quite as thin as his 3D-printed creations, but nevertheless, the structure was similar.

The rest was history. Gabriel decided to apply his experience with 3D-printing liquids, combine it with a different science – molecular gastronomy – and create edible things using a 3D printer. Heston, eat your heart out! Gabriel uses a technique called reverse spherification to create layers of jelly-like structures, one on top of the other, that stick together to form a 3D structure.

You can customise the colour, nutritional content, texture, flavour and shape of these creations, and this technology could be applied much more widely than just within the food industry. You could use it to create personalised make-up; perfumes; easy-to-take supplements or medication for the elderly, or children…and I bet the cocktail bars in Chelsea would lap this up.

‘Sweet sugar pie’
Vaiva, founder of dovetailed.co, also talked to us about how you can change the way people experience food and drink – for example their perceived taste – through technology. She used her stamp system as an example: she simply stamps QR codes onto coffee-shop napkins which, when you scan them with your phone, plays music that makes the coffee you’re drinking seem sweeter – without resorting to unhealthy sugar.

‘Beautiful lasers’
Vaiva also introduced the idea of using laser technology to ‘print’ information on fruit and vegetables, reducing packaging and keeping the customer informed at the same time. For example, not only could you put things like cooking instructions or best before dates on an aubergine, but you could also provide the customer with data about the fruit – its nutritional values, provenance etc.

‘Push it real good’
The final treat Dovetailed had to show us, was their trolley handle add-on. After conducting market research, they concluded that a lot of people felt overwhelmed by choice when shopping in supermarkets. So, they designed a device that clips onto the trolley handle (thus letting the shopper push the trolley as usual), which has a barcode scanner in it. The customer simply scans the product to get information on that product that isn’t usually instantly available, at a glance – and what’s more, the information is personalised.

You scan a card to tailor the results before setting off. So, for example, you could say you’re interested in food mileage, or that you have a nut allergy and wish to be alerted to products containing nuts.

So, when you scan a pack of beef, for example, the more LEDs that light up, the further the meat has travelled to the store. If the product contains nuts, then an unhappy face will appear on the screen. You can even have a running tally of how healthy your trolley is: the scanner can keep track of the amount of salt, fat etc. per portion in your trolley, and can tell you how well you’re doing on average.

Do you think 3D printing your dinner instead of cooking it is the future? Do you think this technology is something that supermarkets could – and should – be exploring? Tweet your thoughts to @TescoLabs

To watch Gabriel and Vaiva present all their inventions, go here.

Lunch & Learn with Toby Stone: how start-ups and big companies can work together

The beauty of disruptive innovation is to be as disruptive as possible.

Last month, Toby Stone came to Tesco HQ to deliver our very first Tesco Labs Lunch & Learn session on how big corporations and start-ups can work together.

Below are six nuggets of wisdom from Toby’s talk. The link to the full video is at the end of the article.

1. Start-ups move fast
As they’re so much smaller than big corporations (maybe just 2 or 3 people), making decisions is quicker and easier: they aren’t fettered by reams of red-tape, and don’t have to get sign-off from 10 people in 8 different departments if they want to change their app’s font colour. They also have an added incentive to keep them on their toes: the real threat of running out of cash.

2. “What have you done for me lately?”
It’s a two-way street when it comes to working with start-ups.
Big companies have lots of customers, which can help start-ups get traction, and have extensive experience and knowledge in areas that start-ups might not be familiar with. They also have $$$!
On the flip side, start-ups can bring disruptive innovation, new ideas and agility to the party. They’re adaptable, and their friendly, non-corporate face can be a good way of engaging people.

3. ‘Watching big corporations try to work directly with start-ups is like watching your dad dancing at a disco.’
Harsh but true… or just plain harsh? Toby says big corporations shouldn’t try to BE start-ups, but rather should think of getting someone in to act as a middle-man, or ‘interpreter.’ Toby says: “the start-up world, like the corporate world, has its own vocabulary, its own media outlets.” This is where corporate accelerators and incubators would be an ideal solution.

4. ‘Pfft. I liked their music back when they only had 300 friends on MySpace!’
The ‘hipster factor’ is a big deal these days; but can a cool start-up retain its street cred if it works with Tesco? Toby says the key to this is staying a healthy distance apart.
If we were to take over a start-up and rob them of that mentality, this would defeat the point of working with them: they are no longer friendly-looking, but look like a cynical corporate Marketing ploy. But if we work with them but keep our distance, and let them keep their identity, then we both benefit: we can ‘borrow’ their street cred, and they keep their identity.

4. The dreaded ‘Process’ is a start-up’s kryptonite
Even if the start-up has the support of a Venture Capital Fund or a big corporate partner and is gaining a decent customer base, if they have to wait too long for the big company to make a decision, they will lose money – and run the real risk of going bust.

6. Time Differences
Corporation and start-ups have different conceptions of time: ‘quickly’ could mean weeks to months to a start-up, whereas to a big corporation, this could mean months to years. Can a big corporation move fast enough to do anything meaningful with the start-up before they get bored…or go bust?

Watch Toby deliver his talk, and field your questions with panache here: