Multiply Labs embraces ‘small-batch’ approach in personalized nutrition

By Adi Menayang contact

- Last updated on GMT

Multiply Labs makes small-batch supplements with 3D printers
San Francisco-based Multiply Labs was born in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology when a PhD student and visiting scholar developed a 3D printer for capsules.

When the company first officially launched last year, its 3D printing capabilities is what charmed the public, with headlines on the Smithsonian Magazine​, Vice​, TechCrunch​, and this publication​ focusing on the 3D printers.

But visiting Multiply Labs’ website​ requires one to scroll down to the lower half of the page to find the first mention of ‘3D Printers.’ That’s because, above anything, Multiply Labs wants to highlight the personalization aspect of its company.

“Right now, if you look at supplements in general, they are mass-produced in the hundreds and thousands, millions of capsules, all look exactly the same,”​ Joe Wilson, co-founder and COO of Multiply Labs, told NutraIngredients-USA.

“It’s a very old way of thinking. We think that supplements can, and should be, personalized to fit your exact nutritional needs.”

So how does 3D printing play in?

Like many personalized nutrition companies such as Care/Of​ or Vitamin Packs​, Multiply Labs has consumers take a lifestyle and diet assessment quiz to gauge what they may need in terms of nutrition, and then recommends a supplement to take.

What makes Multiply Labs different is its supplement manufacturing process, developed by co-founders Fred Parietti (the company’s CEO) and Alice Melocchi (the company’s CTO) while they were at MIT. Parietti was getting his PhD in robotics, while Melocchi was a visiting scholar for pharmaceutical technology.

That’s where they met Wilson, back then an MBA student at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.

“They came up with a unique idea for 3D printing capsules with the goal of…really personalizing when different supplements or medications will release in the body. All you need to do is vary the thickness of the shell, and you can use it as a control mechanism,”​ Wilson said.

Instead of partnering with a contract manufacturer, Multiply Labs’ 3D printers allow the company to design one capsule containing, say, omega-3, folate, and iron for customers whose survey results suggests they may need to supplement their diet with these nutrients. Most other personalized nutrition companies would instead deliver three different capsules for each nutrient.

The concept got them into Y-Combinator, the west coast start-up accelerator which has Drop Box and Airbnb in its roster of alumni.

Like many personalized nutrition companies, Multiply Labs includes a customer lifestyle and diet assessment to recommend supplements.

The team completed the program in the summer of 2016, after which they started a seed round of financing to help get started and get to market—building a production facility and getting the first 3D printed capsules ever to the market.

In late October 2017, the Multiply Labs facility passed a California Department of Public Health inspection, and the first shipments went out at the end of 2017.

‘You don’t need any new supplements, have a nice day’

The company says another advantage of being fully integrated with its own supplement production is that it doesn’t need to push to sell more supplements to fulfill volume agreements as it might have to with a contract manufacturer.

“If it turns out that you’re completely well-balanced, we actually have a​ [survey result] that says you don’t need any new supplements, have a nice day. I think this relates to the second part of what we’re special about. Number one is personalization, number two is transparency,” ​Wilson said.

“Supplements should supplement your diet, they shouldn’t be a be-all and end-all, and more importantly we don’t need to push any more supplements that won’t do anything. We only get you what you need, and it’s personalized exactly for you.”

For those consumers who do get a supplement recommendation, the pricing system is flat for all capsules. It falls into three tiers: The first tier is a bi-weekly shipment of 16 capsules in a recyclable ‘cartridge’ that fits into a hard case that gets shipped with the first delivery. This service costs $30 per shipment. The next tier is the one time order, priced slightly higher per supplement at $35. The last tier is a trial period.

Up Next: Personalizing time release, doses

The company declined to share how big its client base is or how many orders it has fulfilled, but it did share that it has plans for expansion.

“Right now, people can’t go in and change the [doses], but we do hope to add that feature as we go forward,”​ Wilson said. That's a feature aimed at consumers who are more knowledgeable about nutrition, dosage, and formulation. He added that the company is also looking at a way to let consumers personalize their own rate of timed-release.

“I think we’ll be able to introduce that in the coming months. But we only started shipping about six weeks ago, so we’re still in the early stages.”

“We’re not just a traditional supplement company who has just marketing, or a contract manufacturer who just has production. We’re fully integrated, so anytime we’re scaling up, we’re also scaling up on the manufacturing. In the spring and the summer, we’re really focusing on scaling up our consumer base and our facility.”

CORRECTION: ​The facility passed an inspection by the California Department of Public Health, not the FDA, as explained in an earlier version of this article.

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