When you consider 3D printing, what comes to mind is traditional manufacturing – automotive, aerospace, and the like. However, 3D printing is also beginning to emerge hold in non-traditional industries, including the food industry. Although it remains a niche product today, Research and Markets estimates that the 3D food printing market will reach ~$500M by 2023.
Hershey, the popular producer of chocolate, is one of the few large food players currently experimenting with 3D printed food. As a packaged food company, Hershey is dealing with some challenging trends in the food space. Consumer demand for personalized food continues to increase, driven by awareness of health impacts of certain ingredients. This leads to a desire for transparency in food. However, somewhat counterbalancing this is the constant need to deliver incremental convenience to customers. Some experts see 3D printed food as a way to address these trends, by reaching consumers directly and customizing products exactly to their unique taste. For example, imagine a future in which a machine allows customers to print customized Hershey treats in their own home. According to Jeff Mundt, senior marketing manager of technology at Hershey’s innovation center, “If we don’t get the edge and lead the way to edible food printing, someone else will do it for us. And we’re all about innovation.”
In the short term, Hershey is primarily in experimentation mode, using 3D printing to “wow” consumers. In early 2014, Hershey partnered with 3D printing leader 3D Systems to develop a “chocolate printer”. At the time, William Papa, VP of and Chief R&D Officer of Hershey, stated, “We believe that innovation is key to delivering relevant, compelling consumer experiences with our iconic brands…we embrace new technologies as a way to keep moving our timeless confectionery treats into the future.” During this experimental phase, Hershey is deriving value from 3D printing as a marketing novelty, leveraging the capability to connect with consumers in new ways. For example, at Hershey’s Chocolate World locations, consumers can make chocolate bars with custom designs, including their own likeness.2 Additionally, Hershey has used 3D printing capability to take advantage of viral marketing moments – for example, when a couple went viral on Twitter over a dispute on how to eat a Kit Kat, Hershey printed a Kit Kat ring box to be used in the proposal. Again according to Mundt, “Our approach is launch to learn, rather than learn to launch. Put something in front of people and see how they respond to it.”2
Moving forward, Hershey is implementing a few initiatives to continue their effort to commercialize this technology. At the end of 2017, Hershey partnered with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to launch a beta program for the ChefJet Pro, a 3D chocolate printer designed to give professional chefs the ability to create innovative and creative designs. Further out, the Hersey team is also discussing exploring distributed manufacturing capabilities in areas without Hershey manufacturing facilities, as well as non-chocolate food printing.2
While Hershey is progressing its technology incrementally in this space, I would like to see them do more. Currently, they are using the technology as a novelty, with some small investment in commercializing it in the commercial space. However, if they are committed to innovating in their business, there are many different avenues they could invest behind. For example, while a 3D chocolate printer for the home would be expensive in its early days, it could be the type of product that generates outsized marketing “buzz”. Further, it would provide live consumer testing that Hershey could use to improve the technology and further connect with consumers. Additionally, Hershey could do more to use this manufacturing process internally. For example, using 3D printing in its existing factories and allowing customers to “live submit” customized orders to be printed, e.g. for birthdays. While Hershey has publicly committed to advancing this technology in the food industry, they are making only incremental progress.
Finally, there are two questions I would pose to those thinking about this opportunity at Hershey. First, what else could Hershey do to advance their use of this technology in a cost-effective manner? And secondly, in the end state, who in the supply chain will capture the value of the 3D printed food industry? Is it the manufacturer of the machines, the manufacturer of the inputs, the creator of the designs, or someone else? Related, how can Hershey position itself to capture value in this end state? I think these are questions that Hershey management should be more proactive in answering.
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 TJ McCue, “3D Food Printing May Provide Way to Feed the World”, Forbes, Oct. 30 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2018/10/30/3d-food-printing-may-provide-way-to-feed-the-world/#29a3301b5817, accessed 11/9/18.
 Beth Snyder Bulik, “Edible 3-D Food Printing Becomes a Reality at Hershey”, AdAge, Jan. 28 2015, https://adage.com/article/news/edible-3-d-food-printing-a-reality-hershey/296812/, accessed 11/9/18.
 3D Systems, “3D Systems and Hershey Team Up to Deliver 3D Printed Edibles”, January 16 2014, https://www.3dsystems.com/press-releases/3d-systems-and-hershey-team-deliver-3d-printed-edibles-0, accessed 11/9/18.
 John Bonazzo, “This Guy Can’t Eat Kit Kats Right – Hershey Still Helped Him with a Marriage Proposal”, Observer, July 5 2018, https://observer.com/2018/07/hershey-kit-kat-marriage-proposal-twitter-haley-byrd-evan-wilt/, accessed 11/9/18.
 Jenny Eagle, “Hershey Continues to Explore the Possibilities of 3D Printing”, Confectionary News, Dec. 4 2017, https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/12/04/Hershey-continues-to-explore-the-possibilities-of-3D-printing, accessed 11/9/18.