Chocolate 3D Printing with Mass Customization Around the Corner, Says FoodJet

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We recently learned that the exciting PERFORMANCE project, meant to develop 3D-printed food for the elderly, didn’t quite pan out as expected, with the major partners, Biozoon and FoodJet, deciding that the business case wasn’t quite there to develop the technology further. Nevertheless, FoodJet has begun exploring food 3D printing further—specifically chocolate 3D printing.

The company has developed a number of products for food decoration and production, including systems for graphical decoration, filling cavities, and coating surfaces. Applications range from decorating donuts and filling waffles with cream to spreading pizza on dough and jam on biscuits. FoodJet Director Pascal De Grood has said that the business has long been food printing but describes the technology as closer to 2.5D printing, noting the difficulty of stacking vertical layers, particularly with savory ingredients. Chocolate, on the other hand, lends itself much more easily to adding multiple layers.

A 3D-printed chocolate bar made using FoodJet’s new system. The company claims that chocolates are approaching mass customization. Image courtesy of FoodJet.

In February, the manufacturer of food jetting systems launched its first chocolate 3D printer. The machine, as shown in the video below, resembles a carousel in which chocolate molds pass below a number of printing heads that can add different colors or materials, making it possible to produce complex chocolate bars that can be personalized to each customer. However, the system is not limited to printed chocolate bars, but can also print freeform bars on flat molds, hollow shapes, a variety of pralines and more.

“This is something that we did invest in because we see the future of [a chocolate 3D printing] business in that. The larger industrial companies want to first see us invest before they get on board, but we have a strong feeling that that this is going somewhere. It could be a nice addition to all of our more traditional machines that have been around for a long time: single-pass decorating machines or cavity filling machines.”

The larger industrial companies he may be referring to include Hershey’s, which partnered with 3D Systems in 2015 to develop the never-released ChocoJet 3D printer, or Nestlé, which has been researching the technology since at least 2014. Mondelez International—formerly known as Kraft Foods and maker of such brands Toblerone, Cadbury and Chips Ahoy!—exhibited Oreos with customizable printed filling at SXSW in 2014.

“Your normal chocolate bar is a product that is very hard to gain profit from,” De Grood said. “So, [large industrial companies are] all looking for something new, something, exciting, something very, very complex to make with different materials, different shapes, and also [production with greater flexibility] without the use of a mold. Being able to print on a flat belt and make pretty much any shape very, very attractive to them.”

There are several companies that sell chocolate 3D printers or small systems capable of 3D printing chocolate, including Choc Edge and byFlow, but these machines are for individual use. According to De Grood, Food Jet is the only company capable of 3D printing chocolate objects at an industrial scale. The technology is capable of cost-effectively 3D printing batches of hundreds to thousands of uniquely 3D-printed chocolates. De Grood says that there is still more development to be done.

In the meantime, FoodJet continues to develop its food deposition technology beyond chocolate. About 50 percent of the company’s turnover is for printing pizzas, depositing sauce onto dough. There are strict requirements from its pizza customers, including the exact size of the pizzas, as well as the ratio of sauce to dough, but De Grood sees options for customizability there, as well, including writing text on pizzas with sauce and other ingredients.

Chocolate 3D printing is the more immediate goal. The next step in development will be to move into more complex geometries, then make it possible for consumers to order custom chocolate products from home.

“We are building those systems now and talking with the larger European industrial companies to implement that,” de Grood said. “I think in the next two to five years, maybe a little bit sooner, but on a, on a smaller scale. But within two to five years that will definitely be available.”

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