According to a study published by scientists from the Catholic University (KU) of Leuven, very little research has been done on how people perceive 3D printed food and how they form their opinion on this topic.
Yet the disruptive nature of the technology - coupled with a high share of food product failures and market withdrawals due in part to a lack of importance given to consumer research - mean that investigating consumers’ perceptions, needs and fears around 3D printing technology is essential to bringing 3D printed food to market.
In order to determine current attitudes and how they can be evolved, the researchers recruited 260 Swiss German adults and, via a questionnaire, evaluated their awareness and receptiveness. The questionnaire gave a description of 3D printing technology, explaining that it is mainly used in the metal and plastic processing sector but can also be used to produce customised food.
They found that participants’ previous knowledge of 3D food printing was relatively low and overall attitudes were “rather negative”, linked particularly to the fear of eating alien food and highly processed food.
The technology’s “presumably unfortunate name” could also be fuelling neophobia, they suggest. Several participants expressed fears that food produced with a printer would be inedible, unsafe or at least nutritionally depleted.
The participants were then given more information on the technology and how it could be used, namely: to create new food designs, making food more fun; to facilitate cooking, making food preparation more convenient; to adapt food composition to meet certain dietary requirements such as reduced salt or more acceptable vegetables for children; and to personalise the nutritional profile of food for individuals.
By providing this factual information about the technology, the researchers said they succeeded in "positively influencing" consumers’ attitudes - especially among those who had no or very limited previous knowledge, as well as those who were ‘nutrition-savvy’ and ‘convenience-seeking’.
Skilled participants, on the other hand, were swayed “very little” by the provided argumentation.
“The […] arguments – fun, convenience, health and personalised nutrition – are relevant in the promotion of the technology to the target public, namely the early adopters,” they write.
“This observation highlights how important it is to control and anticipate the communication about this new technology, supporting the need for an early and well-designed information campaign.”
Such information “has the potential to positively shape consumers’ attitudes toward 3D-printed food”.
In terms of socio-demographic variables, gender was the only significant predictor, with men showing a more positive attitude than women.
Source: Food Quality and Preferences
“Consumers’ attitudes and change of attitude toward 3D-printed food”
Available online ahead of print, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2017.12.010
Authors: Thomas A. Brunner, Mathilde Delley, Christoph Denkel