With its fancy new 3D chocolate printer, Hershey’s leads charge in exploring the future of food.
The father and daughter sitting in the photo booth wore big smiles as the light flashed.
I watched as their photo was scanned at a computer station, turned into a three-dimensional file and transferred onto a flash drive. It was then plugged into a port on the CocoJet – the 3D chocolate printer at Hershey’s Chocolate World.
They looked on as the CocoJet’s printheads traced along the design path, and thin beams of dark chocolate recreated their family portrait onto a block of Hershey’s milk chocolate. The whole process from photo to cocoa took less than three minutes, and when they walked away, they wore even bigger smiles then the ones printed on their personalized piece of chocolate.
Even though 3D printing has been around for years now, I’ll admit to having a Homer Simpson-type moment when I heard the words “3D chocolate printer.” I may have even daydreamed of printing the draft of this story on reams of milk chocolate paper and literally eating my words.
As futuristic and downright Willy Wonka-esque the notion of eating delicious Hershey’s chocolate from a 3D printer sounds, the pipe dream of people regularly getting their food from 3D printers within the next decade is quickly becoming a reality.
At first, the tech world and the confectionary world don’t seem like an obvious pair. But Hershey’s identified 3D printing as one of the transformative technologies of the future and decided to be proactive instead of reactive.
CEO John Bilbrey calls Hershey’s a “knowledge company that happens to be in confection.” Bilbrey is involved with Singularity University, a forward-looking think tank, where he met the head of 3D Systems – the company that produced the first prototype of 3D printing technology back in the mid-’80s. The two decided to partner and develop the CocoJet. The 3D chocolate printer made its debut in December at a technology exhibition, where it was enthusiastically met by techies and foodies alike.
The photo booth display at Chocolate World is 3D printing at its most basic. The CocoJet can also create polygon-shaped pieces and latticed sugar-coated Hershey’s Kisses that, because of their intricate designs, could never have been made using a standard chocolate mold.
Hershey’s isn’t the only company to explore the use of edible materials created from a 3D printer. NASA has been using 3D printers to develop different methods of providing food for its astronauts in orbit. Chloé Rutzerveld – a freelance food and concept designer – recently developed Edible Growth, involving 3D printed layers of a dough-like concoction and a gelatinous algae-based substance where spores can grow. There’s also the Pancakebot – a 3D printer that can create pancakes in any shape you desire. But Hershey’s is the biggest commercial food company to begin using the technology and looks to disrupt the food industry by eventually getting into the in-home kitchen appliance market by developing 3D confectionary printers for personal use.
Jeff Mundt (who carries the old-and new-school title of Senior Marketing Manager/ Disruptive Innovation for Hershey’s) says, “Ultimately we think that people will have these in their homes and be using them on an everyday basis. [3D printers] could replace your microwave.”
It’s that sort of disruptive mentality that makes Hershey’s one of the most forward-thinking companies in the U.S.
Typically, when a business wants to bring an innovation to the market, they do so by first looking for an unmet need and then creating a product to satisfy that need. But in the case of 3D printing, Hershey’s found a solution before a problem ever existed.
“What we’ve seen here is a very strong appeal from consumers for personalization,” says Mundt.
Lina Yang – Hershey’s Futurist and Director of the Advanced Technology Lab – helps identify trends and keep the company on the leading edge of edible innovation.
“Because food is such an important part of consumers’ lifestyles, they are actively seeking unique and meaningful food experiences,” she says. “That’s where 3D chocolate printing fits perfectly. It’s special, unique, fun and personal.”
The disruptive mentality and start-up style innovation that Hershey’s exhibits appeals to Millennials, Yang says, who represent an incredibly powerful force driving change in the marketplace.
“They are looking for convenient food that fits into their busy and unstructured lifestyles,” says Yang. “Eventually, consumers will be expecting customized food for their unique bodies and needs. Customized, personalized snacks printed in your home by a 3D printer could be the ultimate expression of that trend.”
We may not be seeing in-home 3D printers in our kitchens for another decade, but the technology is here to stay. For now, you can visit Hershey’s Chocolate World and experience the CocoJet for yourself.