The average US household consumes thousands of cans and bottles of beverages every year, each one composed of a lot of water and a little flavoring. The byproduct of that model is water waste, CO2 generation from bottling, shipping and chilling, and a huge amount of poorly recycled containers. Cana, a Silicon Valley startup, has launched opened pre-orders for a new home appliance that seeks to shift beverage production from bottler to kitchen counter and make what you drink conscionable for the first time since mass bottling began.
Printing is not a verb we associate with drinks but the Cana One "beverage printer" is a cross between an inkjet printer, the JPEG file format, and a SodaStream machine. Unlike other home beverage makers, it makes virtually any kind of drink, the array of which Cana says differ by as little as 1% of their substance. "Every home in the industrialized world has water," says Dave Friedberg, founder and CEO of The Production Board from which Cana emanates. "We take just the 1% that differentiates water into coffee, tea, juice, beer, wine, and liquor and just ship that 1%, effectively making a beverage printer."
A patent-pending cartridge holds small amounts of 84 essential flavoring ingredients that are precisely blended with tap water, sugar, alcohol and carbonation inside the machine to create the drink you select from a Roku-like touchscreen interface.
Those ingredients may sound like an unbelievably short shopping list for a machine that makes everything from coffee to cocktails but Cana says our perception of taste relies on a small subset of compounds, not unlike the way a high-res video stream removes most of the original video information but doesn't look like it did. Cana also relies on the fact that, to some degree, we taste what we're told we're about to taste: The color screen on the device brings each drink to life with a vivid description and thematic video clip while it's being made.
Clear drinks will be offered first; Some traits such as viscosity, opacity and pulp will be harder to achieve until future versions of the device arrive.
How does it taste?
I visited Cana's R&D office in Redwood City, California, and sampled a cold brew coffee, two blueberry coolers, a grapefruit sparkler and a mimosa that each came out of the machine about 30 seconds after a few screen taps. Production versions of it should make drinks in about 15 seconds. Each beverage tasted good -- good enough that the staff offered to direct me to the restroom when I quaffed every drop of all five -- but not quite like the conventional versions. That raises an important question. What makes a drink "right": What tastes good, or what you're used to?
If you scroll the Cana One's interface looking for Dr. Pepper or Fanta, you won't find them or any big national brand. Instead the machine is the front end of a platform that recruits what you might call "drinkfluencers" to concoct the beverage hits of tomorrow and a lot more of them than today since Cana beverages never have to compete for shelf space. "Everyone will find a beverage brand they love (on Cana)," says Friedberg. "A better fit for them individually instead of being participants in the lowest common denominator solution that the big brands created for all of us."
Drink creators will earn a cut of the price of each drink made from their formula, not unlike the stars of social and video platforms. Taking such a page from the influencer playbook needs little explanation but it will require deft management of the onscreen experience to make the amount of choice delightful rather than overwhelming. Streaming television technology is better for its amount of choice but it's also a lot more work than cable TV.
That said, I have to believe that big legacy drink brands will be watching Cana One with interest. Shipping mostly water in bottles and cans that occupy energy-sapping reefer trucks and cold cases before being consumed and turned into a mountain of spent containers can't be a model they relish. The modern bottle cap or Crown cork that enabled that model dates back only to 1892, ushering in a new era of six-packs and Coke machines and the end of the soda jerk. In some ways, Cana One takes us back to the future, though with a lot more choice and a robotic jerk.
Every drink is green
In the hours I spent with Cana's executive team, the company didn't mention its expectations of market share. Instead everything was couched in terms of environmental harm reduction. There are 540 million tons of CO2 put into the air each year by the global packaged beverage industry and 400 trillion gallons of water used annually across the lifecycle of the industry's products. That's the opportunity Cana pointed to.
"The technology that allowed us to create the bottled beverage industry 150 years ago has gotten smaller, faster, better and cheaper and now we've put it in your kitchen," says Dave Friedberg. Cana's like Tesla or , both of which have stout commercial goals but which also lead with an environmental story. That reflects the shift in consumer and investor priorities we've witnessed in recent years.
Price and Availability
The Cana One is available for preorder with a $99 reservation fee against a $499 purchase price for the first 10,000 units, after which the price will go up to $799. Drinks are estimated to cost between 25 cents and 2 dollars each, shown on the screen before you make each one. That will notably give Cana something that Tesla and Impossible don't enjoy: An immediate cost advantage. The ingredient cartridges are "free": The cost is built into the price of the drinks you make.
Cana's vision of drinks is radical. It asks us to migrate a simplistic experience to a rich one, and promises to do something with a few drops of liquid that was previously impossible, a claim that can inspire skepticism around Silicon Valley these days. But apart from making drinks it also dispenses several drugs most of us can't get enough of: Discovery, choice, identity, instant gratification and tangible evidence that we're doing the right thing right now. I think I'll have a double.