3-D printed food set to enter its next dimension

Dive Brief:

  • The market for 3-D printed food is expected to reach $425 million by 2025, growing at a compound annual growth rate of about 55% from 2018, according to a new report from MarketsandMarkets.

  • Customized chocolate and cakes are currently the largest segments of the printed food market, and the report suggests these foods are likely to see the most significant growth.

  • North America is expected to hold the largest share of the market in 2018, but the Asia-Pacific market for 3-D printed food is expected to grow at the fastest rate from 2018-2025. The United States is likely to invest in healthcare applications for the technology over the coming years, such as nutrient-rich printed foods for the elderly.

Dive Insight:

3-D printing may be growing rapidly, but the technology is still in its infancy. Futurologist Jeremy Rifkin has said that the technology could usher a new industrial revolution, putting an end to production lines for a wide range of goods.

So far, 3-D printing in the food sector has shown particular potential for creating intricate chocolates, novelty candies and flat foods like pizza, crackers and pasta – so it still doesn’t quite live up to the promise of a Star Trek-style food replicator.

Some have suggested it may not be long before 3-D printers start appearing in home kitchens, and could potentially help consumers manage health conditions like diabetes by using real-time individual biometrics to print nutritionally managed meals. It could attract people interested in healthy eating by requiring fresh ingredients to be prepared in advance before they are loaded into the printer. 3-D printing also could help incorporate ingredients that western consumers may find unpalatable, like insect flours, into foods with a more familiar form.

However, one of the most promising areas for development has been in creating nutritious texture-modified foods for the elderly. Problems chewing and swallowing, known as dysphagia, are estimated to affect about 4% of the U.S. population, particularly affecting the elderly, with as many as 40% of 70-year-olds thought to suffer from some form of dysphagia. This can lead to major nutritional deficiencies, and as the population ages, is likely to become a pressing public health issue.

Food makers are already using 3-D printers. Barilla sponsored a contest to create a 3-D printed pasta. The winner created a pasta bud that blooms into a rose when it is boiled. Oreo has used a 3-D printer that can squeeze out the cream filling into customizable patterns, flavors or colors on already-baked cookies. Soda and snacks maker PepsiCo has used the technology to create a potato chip with deeper ridges and more crunch.

But in general, printing food comes with several hurdles. Early models are expensive (akin to the microwave decades ago that is now ubiquitous in today's kitchens.) The foods also takes a long time to be printed, a challenge for many busy consumers who are eating more of their meals on the go. This alone could limit the market for 3-D food printing to diehard foodies or restaurants who are looking to add a slick-looking garnish to their meal.

Filed Under: Manufacturing Ingredients
Top image credit: Wikimedia Commons