3D pepperoni: High tech invades the pizza segment

3D pepperoni: High tech invades the pizza segment

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You know you’re at the bleeding edge of food-related innovation when new inventions seem more like magic tricks than just logical extensions of current technologies. But how else to characterize a Domino’s DVD that produces the smell of pizza and changes the disc’s appearance while in use to become the ultimate in-home marketing tool? And nothing’s more futuristic than NASA’s plan to use 3D printing technology to produce pizza for astronauts during their mission to Mars.

Note that the NASA 3D pizza printer isn’t science fiction. The space agency has awarded a $125,000 contract to Austin, TX-based Systems Materials Research Corporation to develop a prototype of the device. The company and its senior mechanical engineer, Anjan Contractor, received the nod from NASA after demonstrating proof of concept with a 3D printer that creates chocolate treats.

NASA plans to use 3D printers to produce pizza for astronauts during their Mars mission. Photo: NASA

As is true for other forms of 3D printing—even 3D plastic handguns—the pizza would be assembled from powdered ingredients that are mixed on-board with liquids to create an “ink” that is then dispensed in multiple thin layers.

For a pizza, the device would first combine one set of ingredients to print the dough and move it to a heated surface, where it would “bake” to form a crust. The printer would then add a layer of sauce to this base using different components, followed by what is so far classified only as a “protein layer.” We’re hoping that’s NASA-speak for cheese and pepperoni.

So far, so good. But there’s a bigger challenge here. The device has to work with ingredients that can last for years before being printed out and fed to Mars-bound astronauts. Rough estimates of manned exploration missions to Mars are 500-1000 days.

Domino’s DVD produces the smell of pizza and changes the disc’s appearance while in use. Photo: Artplan Sao Paolo

“Long distance space travel requires 15-plus years of shelf life,” Contractor says.   “The way we are working on it is, all the carbs, proteins and macro and micro nutrients are in powder form. We take moisture out, and in that form it will last maybe 30 years.”

Contractor sees the device as having much wider use than just long-distance space travel. He thinks it will be the ideal tool to address world hunger issues thought likely to emerge later in the 21st century.

Let’s hope the end product tastes good, too. Contractor may wish to get in touch with Chicago chef Homaro Cantu, who already knows how to make great-tasting printed food happen. Among his many other innovations, the chef/owner of Moto has given restaurant guests edible menus printed on a Canon i560 inkjet printer for years. He or other chefs who know their way around a molecular gastronomy lab could make NASA’s 3D-printed food not just possible, but desirable, too.

Domino’s has already found a tech-forward way to make its pizza an object of desire for potential customers. The company’s Brazilian ad agency, Artplan Sao Paolo, came up with a scheme to use rental movie DVDs as the medium to spread its message in a country where rental movie DVDs are still a big deal. The idea was to replace the label on new release DVDs with an image of a Domino’s pizza that contained a pitch for purchasing a pizza to eat with the consumer’s next movie rental.

However, that’s not how the DVD disc looked when people who had rented the movies first took the disc out of its case and loaded it into their DVD player. Instead, the label was a plain dark gray, obscuring the image beneath with a layer of heat-sensitive thermal ink and flavored varnish.

Here’s how Advertising Age describes the process from there:

“While people were watching the movie, the heat of the DVD player affected the disc. When the movie ended and they ejected the disc, they smelled pizza. They also saw pizza: the discs were printed to look like mini pies, and carried the message: ‘Did you enjoy the movie? The next one will be even better with a hot and delicious Domino's Pizza.’”

See for yourself how this high-tech yet very personal pizza ad worked.

We don’t know how many additional pizzas were sold as a result of this campaign. But it was so clever you can bet Domino’s became top-of-mind for many consumers as result. If you get a chance to employ a new high-tech device to market your restaurant, we suggest you give it serious consideration.

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