3D printing of food as a driver for growth

3D print of food is in its infancy. This blog will discuss how 3D printing of food will become an important driver for growth and innovation. 3D technology will not outcompete the high-quality food products that Denmark is already known for. But we need to make sure that the meal components, ingredients and technologies in the future are supplied by the Danish food industry and not from other food clusters.

With the current technology level, 3D printed food products are of low quality. This means that the technology is not yet widely used, and it can be difficult to envision, how it can benefit the Danish food industry and the consumers.  An analysis in 2015 by Danish Technological Institute showed that only 4 % of Danish companies in general make active use of 3D printing.1 At the same time the number of global patents in the area is on the rise.1 It is now, the Danish food industry should work together to ensure that the use of 3D printing of food becomes a future specialization for Denmark.

A driver for innovation

Being able to 3D print food is not the goal per se. The 3D print technology can potentially enhance your innovation processes but also open new markets. Imagine a future where you can print prototypes of your new food concept instead of investing in expensive pilot productions. Or where tailormade meals can be printed in hospitals, institutions and even private homes. This will open up for a whole new era in terms of life style, quality of life and treatment options.

Customized meals

Households can struggle with the meal plan for the week. With printed meals, you can eat together as a family while accommodating the preferences of each family member. Printed food could also inspire young children to eat healthier food, when the 3D printed products have inspiring shapes. In the growing segment of single households, printing your own meal is the easy route to a homemade meal. In this scenario, the food industry provides the components instead of a prepared packaged product and we need to be ready for this.

The public sector can also benefit from this. Today a patient with swallowing difficulties would be presented with a blended meal. By using 3D printing technology, the meal obtains improved texture and more appeal. This has been demonstrated in an EU project and special packaging for the reheating of such meals has been developed.2 Or imagine a future where a patient is provided with a printed meal produced from a digital recipe developed by a dietitian targeted his specific condition.

Join forces – print a carrot

What is possible today? The Danish Technological Institute (DTI), Dupont and Aarhus University recently joined forces in a range of experiments on the use of 3D printing technology on vegetables. Aarhus University offered a group of enthusiastic engineering students, Dupont a range of ingredient solutions and DTI competences within rheology and the flow properties of food.

From this a printable recipe for a carrot was developed.

3D print stjerne_zoom (002)

21 children from a kindergarten was subjected to the choice between a regular carrot and a moulded star-shaped carrot. The majority, 17 out of 21 children preferred the star-shaped carrot.

The Danish food industry as first movers

A vast range of companies can dive into this potential. Are you a food producer you can supply meal kits for hospitals or adapt the packaging so it fits with the printing process. Ingredient suppliers can develop tailormade ingredient solutions. Are you a technology or equipment supplier, there is a big potential in supplying the supporting technology and packaging.

The 3D technology will not outcompete the high-quality food products that Denmark is already known for. But we need to make sure that the meal components, the ingredients and the technologies in the future are supplied by the Danish food industry and not from other food clusters.

Next steps

For this to become a reality, a lot of work is ahead of us. We need to understand the interaction between the 3D printing technology, the ingredient solutions and the sensoric characteristics of the resulting food product. Gaining consumer acceptance is a must for this to become reality. DTI will look into these aspects with selected partners and will soon acquire a 3D printer for food products.

If we get this right as an industry, we may have an interesting path ahead of us.

1 http://www.mynewsdesk.com/dk/teknologisk-institut/pressreleases/stort-uhoestet-potentiale-i-3d-print-for-danske-virksomheder-1271580

2 http://www.mynewsdesk.com/dk/teknologisk-institut/pressreleases/nu-kan-specialdesignede-maaltider-3d-printes-1243454