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Is 3D Printing the Future of Food Manufacturing?


How are businesses incorporating 3D printing into the food industry? Major brands like PepsiCo, Hershey, and Oreo are using 3D printing in novelty applications like custom shaped potato chips, chocolates, and cream patterns. The possible uses are expected to evolve and open up more disruptive marketing opportunities.

3D printing technology is disrupting many industries; changing everything about traditional manufacturing, including food manufacturing. 3D printing uses a process referred to as additive manufacturing and is expected to grow to $12.8 billion in revenue by 2018, and top $21 billion in worldwide revenue by 2020.


3d printing _ food examples

In additive manufacturing, 3D printers place layers of material on top of one another until a product is created. Additive manufacturing’s big draw is that it allows manufacturing to happen as close as possible to the point of need.

The Burning Question:

“Will 3D Printing Transform the Way We Eat?”


The market for 3D printed food is expected to reach $425 million by 2025. North America is expected to hold the largest share of the market in 2018. This is a niche and innovative process; it’s unlikely manufacturers will convert product lines to printing, but it gives food makers the opportunity to explore customization of their mass-produced, commoditized products. The process excites food manufacturers, chefs and consumers because it’s able to create complex food products quickly and inexpensively.

According to Deloitte Insights, there are benefits of edible additive manufacturing:

  1. Product differentiation & innovation
  2. Customization
  3. Direct-to-consumer relationships

3D printing will revolutionize food products, and the market for 3D printers is driven by the need for customization with time savings. With the technology, it will be easier to customize ingredients and nutrients, minimize chemical additives, and advance sustainability in food.

“The technology is sound enough to be a game changer in the industry,” says The Culinary Institute of America’s Communications Director, Stephan Hengst.


How Companies & Brands are Using 3D Printing Today


Kate Sullivan, owner of Cake Power in NYC, uses 3D printers to make specialized chocolate molds. “The results have been really great,” she said, adding she’s in the early stages of exploring the technology’s potential.

And the approach isn’t just for specialty chefs. Powerhouse brands are printing as well:

  • PepsiCo uses 3D food printing to create plastic prototypes of different shaped and colored potato chips.
  • Hershey scientists use 3D printing for uniquely designed candy. “We can print anything that you can print with a plastic printer in chocolate,” says Hershey’s tech marketing exec Jeff Mundt.
  • Barilla sponsored a contest to create a 3D printed pasta.
    • Barilla, the leading Italian pasta manufacturer teamed up with TNO, a Dutch scientific research firm to develop a 3D printer capable of printing a variety of differently shaped pasta, enabling customers to 3D print their own CAD files with different pasta designs quickly and easily.
  • Oreo has uses 3D printers to create cookies with customized creme patterns and flavors. The brand unveiled a 3D social cookie experience (see image above) at SXSW, demonstrating that the phenomenon can absolutely draw a crowd.
  • CSM Bakery Solutions and 3D Systems Corporation are working together on the development, sale and distribution of 3D printers, products and materials for the food industry. Customized chocolate and cakes (like those pictured below) are the largest segments of the printed food market and are expected to see the most significant growth.
  • AlgaVia, a company from San Francisco, California has utilized microalgae to develop a protein powder with desired attributes: non-allergenic, gluten-free, high source of dietary fiber.


If you’re interested in exploring printing capabilities for your brands, we suggest the following considerations to maximize relevance and uniqueness in your approach:

  1. How might a 3D printing experience engage buyers at live events?
  2. How might you develop a 3D printing experience that delivers a highly customized and timely interaction with customers and consumers?
  3. How might you create a disruptive marketing opportunity by “printing outside the box”?


Try Before You Buy


The “try before you buy” model lets consumers utilize digital modeling to try on makeup or to see how furniture would look in their home (as seen in Wayfair’s “View in Room 3D” feature). With the assistance of technology manufacturers can bring the “try before you buy” mentality to their trade planning processes to create better results.

This begins with the question what if. With predictive analytics, CPG companies can test different events or promotional mixes to see the predicted results before running any plans. As a result, companies can compare price points, shift retailer conditions, and calculate forward buy, all with the ability to see the impact on KPIs. Seeing the impact change (to one promotion, for one retailer) is the start of strategic decision making guided by data. Essentially, it would be like deciding you didn’t like the color of a certain couch you were “trying out” and changing it to one that better fits the room with the click of a button. This saves time and generates the best plan.




Deloitte Insights explains, “The challenges additive manufacturing aims to address for the food industry seems less clear, more suited to novelty applications – like customized Oreos – than those big companies’ products or supply chains.”

As of fall 2017, there are a number of prototype printers on the market that produce food. 3D printing will continue to evolve as the hot technology in the food industry, but adoption will likely come from companies focused on product innovations and/or direct-to-consumer strategies.

It will take time to get this technology into a commercial kitchen, too. Each food corresponds to its own challenge, whether that’s heat, color, stickiness, etc.