Created to be sustainably optimized, the world’s first printed—and waterless in shipment—beverages are energized for new products, packaging and markets.
Chris Kanik’s career path is, as everyone’s, a unique one, but his is singularly remarkable. For one thing, he may be the only person to start working in an American Chemical Society lab at age 12 and years later, after relocating from New York City, enjoy a stint as a stand-up comedian in California.
Kanik’s one-of-a-kind path continues as first an inventor and now chief excitement officer, aka founder and CEO, for Smart Cups, based in Mission Viejo, CA. The namesake product is based on patented technology for one-of-a-kind cups printed with functional ingredients that consumers add water to at the point of use.
Here are seven noteable aspects of Smart Cups’ past, present and future.
1. Humble, yet explosively productive, beginnings.
The idea for Smart Cups was sparked by a margarita, specifically due to Kanik’s impatience awaiting the drink’s arrival from a too-busy server at Taco Tuesday circa 2010.
Kanik recalls thinking, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if I could just add ingredients to my cup of water ala Crystal Light and make my own drink?” On a napkin he jotted down the basic protocols that led to in-home experimentation using Everclear and filters.
While he succeeded in blowing up his kitchen, Kanik also created three different flavors of powdered alcohol.
In 2012/2013, he partnered with an inventor to develop a patented delivery system based on printed technology that permits the printing of ingredients on a substrate.
That’s when they realized that the government would never allow a rehydratable alcohol drink into market. Kanik proceeded down a different path and, today, has overseas operations in a 23,000-sq-ft facility with 16 employees.
2. The relaunch of proof-of-concept energy drinks.
Smart Cups have been in the market since December 2017 when they were introduced in six flavors, all of which were taken out of circulation over the past months.
Smart Cups were relaunched in October 2019 with what Kanik claims are better-tasting flavors: berry blast, tropical punch and green tea lemon and the most popular, raspberry lemonade.
Kanik considers the line of energy drinks as a proof-of-concept rather than the best version of the technology.
“It’s not that I loved energy drinks,” he tells Packaging Digest, “but because I wanted to prove the functionality and versatility of the technology—that we can print caffeine, amino acids, vitamins inside a cup. A short time after adding water, the user has an energy drink.”
Kanik entered the mainstream beverage market because it was viewed as the easiest path to commercial acceptance.
3. Waterless advantages.
Smart Cups’ fundamental advantage versus standard drinks is the sharp reduction of storage and transportation requirements. Kanik explains that a truck that delivers 96,000 12-oz beverage cans now deliver 1.2 million units of that beverage in Smart Cups and with a significant weight reduction.
Having the ingredients in dry encapsulated form particularly for sensitive functional formulations protects against microbial growth while greatly improving shelf life.
“We continue to work on extending that,” adds Kanik.
Notably, the Smart Cups manufacturing process uses no water.
4. Processing, manufacturing and upgrades.
From a regulatory view, Smart Cups’ patented formulation uses only ingredients generally recognized as safe, or GRAS. At the heart of the patent and printable aspect is a food-safe polymer that protects the ingredients within that activates and dissolves in contact with a liquid, presumably water. The products dissolve in 45 to 90 seconds.
Kanik says the entire two-part process of chemistry/formulation followed by manufacturing is critical to their success.
As for the printing, Kanik will only acknowledge that “it’s not technically 3D printing” as some have surmised. “We built all our manufacturing equipment from scratch, and it takes a lot of art in addition to the science,” he adds.
Output has grown from making batches of 50 to 100 in the lab to thousands in the plant, a capability that will further be “tremendously increased by mid-2020” through automation upgrades.
Sold only online at the company website and at Amazon, the cups are available in two multipack sizes: 5- and 10-pack pouches made of a moisture-resistant, heat-sealed polyfilm pouch with press-to-close reseal that retail for $11.99 and $15.99 respectively; the latter works out to about $1.60 per energy drink, Kanik points out.
The 9-oz serving size makes for faster consumption versus the industry standard 12-oz size, but users can dilute to whatever strength they prefer—it’s the labeled dosage regardless of dilution, he says.
The company is expanding the printing technology to include the interior cup sides as well. “That provides more surface to increase the flavor profile and allows for more complex formulations,” Kanik says.
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