Additive Manufacturing in the Food Industry
Growing up watching The Jetsons, I could have never fathomed a world in which the press of a few buttons actually resulted in real food – at least not in my lifetime. Well, that moment is here. Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, may have had its roots in plastics and metals, but it is now being used in the food industry as well . Growing at a 38.5% CAGR, the 3D food printing industry is projected to reach $525.6 million by 2023 . While still in its very early days, 3D food printing has massive potential to revolutionize the food industry: from improving nutritional properties, to creating food for those with dietary restrictions, to customization in gastronomic experiences, to feeding the hungry and even aiding in disasters where food is unavailable, the possibilities are endless . No discussion about food, however, would be complete without chocolate, right? Enter Hershey.
How Hershey is Innovating with Additive Manufacturing
The Hershey Company, one of the largest chocolate manufacturers in the world, and 3D Systems, one of the leading manufacturers of 3D printing equipment, collaborated to create CocoJet, a chocolate 3D printer . “The CocoJet printer is designed to print milk, dark, and white chocolates in a user defined design fed into it through a computer aided design (CAD) file” or scanning technology . The CocoJet can not only personalize existing Hershey products, but also “print chocolates in various shapes, sizes, and geometries” . Hershey embarked on this journey in the 3D food printing space to allow customization of its products to consumers. As such, the CocoJet was first revealed and debuted in December 2014 at Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction in Hershey, PA .
Visitors to Hershey’s Chocolate World Attraction can customize their chocolate bars with personalized messages through a CAD file or even a picture of their faces recreated through CocoJet’s scanning technology . One of the several limitations the additive manufacturing field currently faces, however, is time. Printing a full size Hershey Chocolate Kiss (pictured above) takes approximately one hour and twenty-six minutes . Therefore, what Hershey is currently offering the public with their 3D printer is actually two dimensional design customization, which takes only a few minutes . The idea is for customers to interact and buy; anything longer would likely “detemper [customer] enthusiasm” .
Additionally, “the printers have an interactive touchscreen that allows the company to survey the public on their customization preferences” . This customer feedback can help inform the company of how to proceed with their technology as they continue innovating.
What’s Next for Hershey and 3D Printing?
While “it’s too soon to say how their work will translate into real world applications”, Hershey continues to explore how they can leverage the technology they have developed with 3D Systems . Hershey and 3D Systems continue investing in R&D both internally and externally . For example, the companies have established a partnership with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), one of the world’s top culinary schools .
They have installed the technology at the culinary school giving access to current CIA students, alumni, and culinary professionals so that they can continue to innovate using the printer and help find real world applications for it in the culinary world. The companies’ hope is that “this will help [them] to better understand how user friendly the technology is and to see how far [they] can push its capabilities to create chocolate shapes otherwise not achievable through traditional molding techniques” .
The more hands on deck – or kitchen counter – the better; “with each iteration the technology becomes faster and more precise so we’ll have to see what the future hold[s]” .
Recommended Areas for Growth
So where does Hershey go from here?
“The technology [of 3D food printing] makes it possible to create complex, reproducible 3D structures impossible to make by hand alone, and can also help with more customized nutritional requirements” .
In addition to customizing products through personalization, shapes, and sizes, I believe using 3D printing to customize the nutritional property of chocolate represents a huge growth opportunity for Hershey to develop a line of products to significantly expand its target market.
Other research areas of 3D food printing include the development of creating lower sugar products, such as cookie doughs . Similar work is being done in hospital care where 3D food printing is also being used to customize and tailor the nutritional properties to each patient’s needs .
Hershey could create a range of lactose free or low sugar products for individuals who are lactose intolerant, suffer from diabetes, or have other dietary restrictions.
What Challenges Does Hershey Face?
The biggest challenge Hershey and others innovating in the 3D food space is, “how do we scale from here?”
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