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Technology Intersects with Imagination to Make 3-D Printed Chocolate a Reality at Hershey

By Will Papa, Chief Research & Development Officer, The Hershey Company


Will Papa, Chief Research & Development Officer, The Hershey Company

3-D printing is a game-changing technology. It is going to dramatically change the way people live their lives in the future. Nearly every industry is looking at how 3-D printing can and will transform the creation and commercialization of products in the marketplace. The nearly endless capability for customization is 3-D printing’s competitive advantage, and it was for that reason that The Hershey Company formed a partnership with 3-D Systems, the industry’s leading 3-D printing company, in January 2014.

We understand the future potential of 3-D printing food and as a company deeply focused on technology innovation and understanding consumer needs, we knew we were well suited to bring 3-D printed chocolate to the world.  Now, we are using 3-D technology to bring our iconic Hershey’s goodness to consumers in one of the most unanticipated and exciting ways.

3-D Printing at Hershey

This January, we debuted our 3-D chocolate printer – the world’s most advanced – to the technology community at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Engadget put the printer in the running for the “Best of CES” award in the Maker-Friendly Technology category. AdAge included Hershey in its list of five non-technology companies that “outshone electronics and tech companies” at the show. The response from the tech community was resoundingly enthusiastic.

It’s incredible that in just one year we went from a signed agreement with 3D Systems to a fully functional 3-D chocolate printer that can print multiple customized chocolate shapes in less than an hour. The printer we showcased at CES was our fourth generation, and we continue to work on the technology. With each iteration, it is getting faster and more precise.

The speed at which we developed the technology perfectly demonstrates our existence in an exponential world – companies must act quickly to get ahead of technology shifts that will dramatically change how consumers interact with each other, the products they love and the world.

“3-D printing is a game-changing technology”

At Hershey, one of the key planks of our research and development strategy is technology, knowing that change moving forward will be revolutionary vs. evolutionary. Hershey sees non-product and technology innovation as key to building a competitive advantage that will secure the company’s next century of success. We are actively out looking for smart partners, like 3D Systems, who help us understand, intercept and prepare for the next waves of change.

Enhancing food experience

What makes 3-D printing so compelling to us is the capability it gives us to meet an urgent consumer need for unique and meaningful food experiences. Consumers are actively seeking food that is special, unique, fun and personal. There is something incredibly special about designing a piece of chocolate that has meaning to you and watching it print before your eyes. The maker movement has exploded in recent years, and the value placed on personal creativity and artisan design has risen quickly. This chocolate printer is ideal for bakers or chocolatiers.

At the same time, we see that with the ubiquitous use of apps like Instagram, there’s a desire for democratizing beautiful imagery and design, so that everyone can take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. We are working on creating a technology platform that will allow everyone to create professional quality 3-D chocolate designs without having to be a CAD designer. That’s what will take the market for this technology from niche users to general population.

The step-change 3-D printing has given Hershey the ability to make very intricate, unique designs – like the lattice Hershey’s Kisses chocolate. These types of precise designs are simply not possible with traditional chocolate molding, which is the way chocolate has been made and perfected over the last century. Right now, we’ve printed chocolate busts of people, logos, buildings, animals and much more- all designs that would be challenging to mold and impractical to create on a personalized basis.

3-D Printing for Consumers

The fact that we introduced the 3-D chocolate printer to the public in a series of consumer engagement events was also a shift in thinking for our organization. We chose to “launch to learn” vs. “learn to launch.” Our strategy from the beginning has been to co-create with consumers and engage them in the process of determining how 3-D printing can best be used to meet their needs. This includes conducting significant consumer research to understand consumer usage and expectations for the final product.

When we unveiled the printer at a live exhibition event at our largest global retail store, Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction in Hershey, Pa., our company’s commercialization plans were still under development. Consumers had the opportunity to witness live 3-D printing, see examples of finished products, interact with a library of 3-D graphics pre-loaded on iPads, be scanned to see what they would look like as a piece of 3-D chocolate and see their photo booth photos being printed in real-time.

Our team witnessed first-hand how novel 3-D chocolate printing is to consumers. It has helped push our thinking beyond technology to better understand the experiential retail possibilities. This early interaction with consumers enabled them to see and react to the technology, and give us input that will help shape our commercial plans and the future of commercially available 3-D chocolate printing.

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