Cold brew. A blueberry sports drink. Grapefruit seltzer. A mimosa.
I tried all of those out of one countertop machine early in March. Each beverage took about 45 seconds to create, and the results were… well, about as good as a decent canned or bottled version of each drink.
That device? Cana One. Billed as the world’s first (and only) molecular beverage dispenser, Cana hopes to essentially replace an entire grocery aisle with one boxy appliance.
Developed by vets of Nike, Anheuser-Busch InBev, Google, Apple and various food tech companies, Cana claims their machine was built to solve the issue of plastic waste. Instead of the carbon-intensive processes that go into the creation and distribution of most of our cold beverages, Cana wants to eliminate all of that (and frequent trips to the grocery store) with a single device, a smart app and a few re-usable cartridges.
The device — available for pre-order now and shipping in early 2023 — doesn’t necessarily look too different from any modern home or office beverage dispenser. There’s a touchscreen for discovery and customization, although this one has some additional video and audio capabilities. Inside, you’ll find cartridges for CO2, booze, sugar and water.
But on top is where the magic happens. That’s where you’ll find an ingredients cartridge, which dispenses compounds and flavors into your drink of choice, whether it’s juice, iced coffee, cocktails or something akin to Gatorade.
“Think of that cartridge like your kitchen pantry,” explains Cana’s CEO Matt Mahar. “In your pantry, you’ve got sugar, salt, baking soda, butter. You can use those same ingredients to make different things, whether it’s cake or cookies or muffins. You just change the amount of each ingredient you use.”
Mahar is a seasoned tech pro with prior experience at Electronic Arts, Vivint Smart Home and Nike; he’s been an early pioneer in everything from gaming microtransactions to connected apparel. (“I’ve had experience building products in a market that doesn’t yet exist,” as he tells InsideHook.) He led me through a Zoom-led trial of Cana One in early March, noting that I was just the third person outside the company to experience a demo.
Mahar compares installing the ingredients cartridge to putting a tape in an old-school VCR. Depending on the drink you select — the press material suggests that could be in the thousands — the tiny ingredient capsules/wells dispense microscopic amounts of whatever flavor is needed, working in tandem with the other cartridges.
Interestingly, there are only 80+ ingredients in that top dispenser. “Our perception of aroma, taste and even mouthfeel is influenced by just a subset of molecules of any beverage,” explains Mahar. “Take a whiskey, for example; there might be 400 discrete ingredients, we as humans can only discern 30. So if we’re creating a drink, we only need to work with those 30. That’s the magic here — we’ve reduced the number of compounds to create any beverage.” (The ingredients in Cana’s cartridges are all FDA approved and “already in food and beverages we’re eating and drinking,” as Mahar adds.)
Now, it’s not quite any beverage. At launch, Cana One won’t be able to make beer or hot drinks. And the boozy drinks it makes are more like approximations, with a neutral-grain alcohol as the base (so the mimosa we tried was more like a mimosa-inspired hard seltzer).
Still, the machine does offer some early benefits, even if spending $499-$799 (depending on when you order) is a lot for an unproven device taking up space in your kitchen. You can customize your drinks, adjusting booze, sugar, caffeine and sugar levels while also adding supplements and vitamins. If you want to simply test one of the many options in Cana’s ever-expanding database, the machine can pour small samples. (Speaking of samples — since Mahar is in San Francisco, the company bottled a few “printed” cocktails after our Zoom demo and sent them on, and yes, I’m aware of the irony of drinking bottled beverages from a company that intends to replace bottled drinks.)
And even with that upfront cost, you’ve got some math on your side: The per-drink pricing for Cana One is estimated to be anywhere from $0.29 to $2.99 per drink. And the device will theoretically eliminate the need for more than 100 beverage containers per month, which would reduce CO2 emissions, water waste, and the use of plastic and glass containers. For now, those ingredient cartridges are expected to last a family of three about a month, and the machine can auto-order replacements as needed.
Still, this is yet another tech-forward device that needs to overcome a lot of hesitation in the marketplace, where even something well-designed like a June smart oven requires a learning curve and a lot of hand-holding. “Whenever you bring something new to the market, there’s a bit of an explanation or education process,” Mahar admits. “We need this to kick ass and be ten times better than what’s out there. We’re competing with the idea of going to the grocery store and walking down an aisle.” To that end, the company is putting a heavy focus on tutorials, curation and using both the app and the device’s video screen to create a more personal and “people-led” experience.
For every Nespresso, Instant Pot or Sodastream that eventually gains acceptance with consumers, there are another 20 kitchen devices that end up collecting dust or ending up in landfills because the product doesn’t solve a problem or the company behind the appliance goes under, leaving you with obsolete hardware. One way Cana might inspire confidence is that their work on the molecular beverage dispenser has already created some other opportunities that may extend the company’s lifeline.
“We’ve essentially created an in-house beverage creation platform,” says Mahar. “If a brand went to a flavor supplier, it might take them eight months to a year to do what we can do now in two months.”
If you’re interested, you can reserve a Cana One here.
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