Nearly 2 trillion beverage containers are produced and sold worldwide each year. Although some are recycled or reused, the vast majority of the most environmentally harmful containers, made from plastic, end up in landfills or polluting our lands and oceans.
While aluminum cans and glass bottles are often promoted as environmentally friendly due to their higher recycling rates, the unfortunate reality is that tons of single-use aluminum and glass containers still find their way into the waste stream. This doesn’t even take into account the significant environmental impact of mining raw materials and transporting beverage containers from centralized production facilities to retail stores and our homes.
But what if we could eliminate single-use packaging by making drinks at home? I’m not talking about brewing our own beer or concocting a home-brewed soda, but making these beverages using drink flavor, sugar and alcohol concentrates dispensed from cartridges, using something akin to a countertop Coke Freestyle machine that allows for personalized recipes tailored towards our taste or nutritional preferences?
That’s the vision of two new startups who are building what they are calling drink ‘printers’. One of these startups, Cana, is making a machine inspired by the Star Trek food replicator. The machine comes with cartridges that enable users to make a variety of drinks, from cocktails and coffee to tea and sodas.
Dave Friedberg, a long-time entrepreneur and technology investor who helped create Cana, said the main motivation behind the product concept was to build something that could help establish a more distributed, decentralized supply chain.
Friedberg wrote in a post introducing the company, “This new decentralized supply chain would use less energy and carbon and cost less to operate, sourcing and shipping only the flavor compounds that make up the 1% of each beverage, rather than all the water and packaging.” He continued, “Eliminating the need for irrigating and growing crops, producing and processing beverages in factories, bottling and packaging beverages, and shipping and wasting containers would have a dramatic impact on the water, energy, carbon, and cost of the entire beverage supply chain, accelerating the inevitable shift from centralized manufacturing to decentralized manufacturing.”
Another startup called Bar.on is developing a drink printer that focuses on one beverage: beer. The One Tap produces beer from cartridges that allow users to adjust hoppiness, aroma, and more. The user can create beers with higher, lower, or no alcohol content, across a range of beer types, such as ales, lagers, tripels, and more.
The company, which claims its beer recipes have performed well against fermented beverages in blind taste tests, also highlights the environmental benefits of home-brewed beer.
“The One Tap beer printer bypasses the need for fermentation and also avoids the shipment of heavy finished products, significantly reducing the ecological footprint and cost of transportation,” the company stated in its announcement of the One Tap. “Additionally, Bar.on aims to reduce waste by minimizing packaging and making efficient use of water, requiring only locally sourced water from the tap.”
Of course, none of this will matter if beverage printers can’t make tasty drinks. Early tests of the drinks from the Cana were mixed, with CNET reporter Brian Cooley saying they tasted good, but “but not quite like the conventional versions.”
Bar.on may have a slightly smaller hill to climb compared to Cana and their all-drink replicator concept, since beer from concentrates isn’t entirely new. That said, reviews of non-fermented beer have generally not been great, so the company will have to deliver on their claims that their “molecular” been research really has nailed the secret to making beer from concentrated flavor inputs.
And then there’s the challenge of convincing consumers to buy a drink printer. While the Sodastream has proven there are consumers out there who like the idea of creating drinks at home, the motivation is often for health reasons rather than sustainability.
Prices for Sodastreams and other carbonators are also much lower than the anticipated price of the Cana ($900) and likely the One Tap, which will no doubt limit adoption early to higher-income households, provided the companies can make enough of these products and get the word out.
Finally, these companies will also have to convince investors there’s enough market here to inject capital into an entirely unproven concept. Cana has already faced stiff headwinds in the current capital environment as it’s sought to raise its next round, and there’s no doubt Bar.on will have to work hard to raise the series A it’s currently seeking in an environment where venture investors are particularly wary of investing in consumer hardware.
That’s a whole lot of ifs that need to fall a certain way for at-home beverage printing to take off. But if these startups somehow manage to somehow beat the odds, there’s a chance that, down the road, the drinks we consume won’t be nearly as damaging to the environment as they are today.