Taste the Future: 3D Printing Chocolate at Hershey

How Hershey is using additive manufacturing to customize chocolate production

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 [1]. Growing at a 38.5% CAGR, the 3D food printing industry is projected to reach $525.6 million by 2023 [2]. 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 [3]. 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 [5]. “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 [5]. The CocoJet can not only personalize existing Hershey products, but also “print chocolates in various shapes, sizes, and geometries” [5]. 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 [6].[7]

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 [7]. 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 [7]. Therefore, what Hershey is currently offering the public with their 3D printer is actually two dimensional design customization, which takes only a few minutes [7]. The idea is for customers to interact and buy; anything longer would likely “detemper [customer] enthusiasm” [7].

Additionally, “the printers have an interactive touchscreen that allows the company to survey the public on their customization preferences” [8]. 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 [8]. Hershey and 3D Systems continue investing in R&D both internally and externally [8]. For example, the companies have established a partnership with the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), one of the world’s top culinary schools [8].

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” [8].

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]” [8].


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” [9].

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 [9]. 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 [10].

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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[1] McCue, TJ. “3D Food Printing May Provide Way To Feed The World.” Forbes, October, 30, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2018/10/30/3d-food-printing-may-provide-way-to-feed-the-world/#5bb669be5817, accessed November 2018.

[2] “Global 3D Food Printing Market: Focus on Technology (Fused Deposition, Selective Sintering, and Powder Bed Binder Jetting), Vertical (Commercial, Government, and Hospital), and Food Type (Confections, Meat, and Dairy) – Analysis & Forecast 2018-2023.” Research and Markets, June 2018. https://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/j3kmz7/global_525?w=4, accessed November 2018.

[3] Abidi, Sam. Phipps, Jarrod. Porter, Kim. Szepkouski, Adam. “3D Opportunity Serves it Up:

Additive Manufacturing and Food.” Deloitte Insights, June 18, 2015. https://www2.deloitte.com/insights/us/en/focus/3d-opportunity/3d-printing-in-the-food-industry.html, accessed November 2018.

[4] “The Jetsons Future of Technology.” March 4, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2m7szptyYPY, accessed November 2018.

[5] “3D Printing in the Food Industry –  Advanced Manufacturing  TechVision Opportunity Engine.” Frost & Elliot, November 4, 2016.

[6] Halterman, TE. “3D Systems Unveils CocoJet Chocolate 3D Printer At 2015 CES.” 3D Print, January, 6, 2015. https://3dprint.com/35081/culinary-printing-3d-systems/, accessed November 2018.

[7] “How Hershey’s is Using 3-D Printers to Make Chocolate Kisses.” Bloomberg, May 7, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FajGAeJ840, accessed November 2018.

[8] Eagle, Jenny. “Hershey continues to explore the possibilities of 3D printing.” Confectionery News, December 4, 2017. https://www.confectionerynews.com/Article/2017/12/04/Hershey-continues-to-explore-the-possibilities-of-3D-printing, accessed November 2018.

[9] Saunders, Sarah. “Using 3D Printing to Reduce the Amount of Sugar in Cookies…Without Making Them Inedible.” 3D Print, October 6, 2018. https://3dprint.com/227364/3d-printing-to-reduce-sugar-in-cookies/, accessed November 2018.

[10] University of Copenhagen. “3D printed food to help hospital patients.” Faculty of Science, October 3, 2017. https://www.science.ku.dk/english/press/news/2017/3d-printed-food-to-help-hospital-patients/, accessed November 2018.




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Student comments on Taste the Future: 3D Printing Chocolate at Hershey

  1. While it is an interesting novelty to be able to print chocolate, and could prove to be a great marketing tool for Hershey, I fundamentally don’t particularly understand what problem this is solving that makes it worth the investment to Hershey to develop the technology. While it would be nice to print intricate designs that are not otherwise feasible by chocolate molds, the equipment in its current state is certainly cost-prohibitive for such a niche purpose. While this is a thought-provoking and well-written article, I think the underlying question is not “how do we scale from here?” but rather “why?”

  2. Wow, this definitely reminds me of Embr Wave, except at least there was a plausible reason for what need they thought they were addressing. I’m curious if the author found any more information about how 3D printing can change (/ improve) the nutritional profile of chocolate products. If 3D printing remains a gimmick that helps Hershey entertain guests at their theme park, I don’t think they should invest in it any further, much less try to scale. Maybe this is the wrong assumption, but I also imagine that manufacturing costs of chocolate bars are not so astronomical that it would make sense to invest in 3D printing to drive down costs. The only way I can see this being an interesting development is on the nutrition side… and even then I question why 3D printing would need to be involved, versus a change in recipe that could be implemented in their normal manufacturing processes.

  3. Thanks for raising this topic and offering more insight into what additive manufacturing offers for chocolate! I remain a bit skeptical on how this would be reasonably monetized in this industry and therefore, make it a worthwhile investment for the business. Is there a large and specialized demand for personalized chocolates or a line of chocolate with specific dietary restrictions. I definitely could be wrong because personalized M&Ms are popular but would take a further step by from this and try to understand why and how this approach aligns with Hershey’s broader strategy before deciding to scale.

  4. Very interesting article! While reading this, I could not help but wonder if the end-goal of the chocolate making was only a novelty for fans. Definitely interesting and cool, but I could not wrap my head around how it could possibly get any bigger than what it was.
    However, I was very intrigued by the premise of nutritional property design. I have always considered 3D-printing in a manufacturing setting, but never in such a intriguing culinary atmosphere. This technology could truly tailor personalized meal plans which could benefit so many people. I love the idea of a company chasing this end goal. The ultimate question though is the time of production. Will 3D-printing ever achieve the speed required to produce on a grand scale. If so – this has potential to go far beyond a novelty.

  5. It’s impressive how Hershey keeps innovating in an ancient product as chocolate. However, I have two concerns regarding the business case behind CocoJet printer. First, is it really a marketable product? Or is it just a “fun experiment” for a niche/exotic market? In my view, I don’t fully believe that this printer is going to drive more sales for the company. Secondly, what is the cost of buying and operating the printer? It is mentioned in the article that the machine really takes a long time to manufacture its chocolates, which is related with its allocated costs.
    In summary, although the CocoJet printer may sound as an interesting product, it has to develop a strong business case in order to gain scale and be successful.

  6. Thanks for the great read. I wonder how 3D-printed chocolate tastes. Probably tastes like the future. In all seriousness, I think it’s a great green field project. It’s novel and makes for a fantastic marketing headline. I do however, have doubts over the practicality of 3D printing chocolate. Intricate designs are great to look at but don’t do much for taste and overall chocolate eating experience. Good old fashioned chocolate bars on the other hand, are nice and compact, perfect for shipping across the world. In any case, Willy Wonka would be proud.

  7. This was a great and informative article! Loved reading it! I had no idea 3D technology was being used in the food industry, or indeed at Hershey. While it is a cool concept, I don’t think 3D printing at Hershey’s will be fully scalable until it takes less time to create one customized product. Developing the technology to be more efficient may take a while. I am curious to know whether Hershey has sole access to this technology, If not, it’s probable Hershey’s competitors have access to this technology and thus the capability to develop customization options themselves. This would eliminate any competitive advantage Hershey may have gained. And if that was the case, would it be worth it for Hershey to continue developing this technology?

  8. Interesting overview of Hersey’s application of additive manufacturing to chocolate. While I agree that 3D printing of chocolate would increase customizability and potentially drive customer demand, I doubt it would have any material impact on the nutrition of chocolate. Chocolate is chocolate and innovations that reduce the amount of sugar, for example, could just as easily be implemented in traditional mold-generated bars. Overall, I see 3D-printing of chocolate simply as a marketing gimmick.

  9. It was very interesting to learn about 3D printing in food industry. That is one of the applications of 3D printing that I’ve never thought of. I was also impressed with 38,5% CAGR. A few thoughts on possible applications and areas to improve. First area that Hershey should look into, in my opinion, is printing time. Right now the technology is great as a proof of concept, however it’s hard to imagine a real-world production application with such a long production time. As far as market positioning goes, it’s currently hard for me to imagine how it could be marketed to a retail customer. However, where I see it being in demand, are smaller artisan bakeries and chocolateries. Those businesses typically create luxury chocolate products, selling them at a high margin. The ability to create complex 3D edible shapes will allow them to attract customer’s interest and will generally be a solid value add.

  10. This was a great article! It’s interesting to me how many different industries are investing heavily in AM without having a clear direction regarding its commercial applications. In Hershey’s case, 3D printing appears to provide greater product design and prototyping for new products; however, it’s hard for me to comprehend how AM contributes to supplementing specific nutritional requirements for consumers. What specifically does this technology do that allows it to create more exact, desired macronutrient proportions than the traditional methods currently does? If possible, the properties of AM seem to have groundbreaking technology that’s applicable in the nutrition segments of the food industry.

  11. This is a very interesting article about Hershey. To the point of scaling, is 3D printing custom products going to be too niche? Until 3D printing is cost effective at scale, it seems to only work with the specialty products. On the flip side, can this help them maintain fresher products? There’s currently a shelf life to chocolate and maybe 3D printing can help them extend this shelf life. Overall, I’m interested to see if they can be a leader in 3D printing food or if it will hinder them from expanding in more profitable ways. Is this a side show or is it really the future for Hershey?

  12. I personally am not a huge fan of 3d printing in the food space, in my view it a one off fad with limited scale and upside. It is definitely a good marketing tool to employ in theme parks and areas with high footfall of kids, but monetizing the actual technology is difficult. I would position this as purely a marketing and sales initiative and a second use case would be to crowd source ideas from consumers on potential chocolate designs that customers find attractive. Also, another monetization of 3d printing technology could be special occasions like weddings, valentines day, birthdays, anniversary and other such events when customers would look for tailored products – I would not make this feature available in public rather an online only thing since the demand would be very scattered and physically placing these 3d printers in physical outlets will not result in a very high utilization.

  13. Interesting article! This is a great example of the limitations of 3D printing. It’s great that Hershey is embracing this innovation and trying to personalize products but given the limitations around time of production, it doesn’t seem like it’ll be a mass-produced offering anytime soon. This is great branding for the company to get into the space, but think for now aside from pop ups of this 2D offering, they should focus on their core competency and unique flavors / styles mass produced traditionally.

  14. While this was an interesting read, I fail to understand the “case for change” behind adopting additive manufacturing at Hershey. It’s unclear what the benefits are, and to what extent, they justify the investment in 3D printing. That being said, Hershey makes significant revenues from selling the “Hershey experience” at the Hershey World in PA. So I can envision installing a 3D printer that prints customized chocolates being a great tool to drive customer engagement, and hence greater ticket sales, at the Hershey World. Beyond that, I don’t see the need to scale additive manufacturing just yet.

  15. I want one of these chocolate printers in my house! Such a cool idea, but I’m struggling to think of how or why Hershey would want to scale this at a mass level. The culinary/special occasion applications are definitely feasible; however, is there any manufacturing advantage to using AM over traditional techniques for the mass production of chocolate? Right now, the largest benefit appears to be in just creating elaborate shapes and designs for PR events or special catering occasions.

  16. I love the idea as a customer and it’s clear that a significant amount of R&D has gone into the development of the technology, but to my mind it lacks both the ability to scale from a manufacturing standpoint (the printing time seems far too long to be viable) but moreover from a marketing angle. How could even an iconic brand like Hershey convey so many different messages and SKUs through the type of customisation described above? This would also put a lot of additional pressure on the brand to get its retail lines exactly right, and it would threaten its ability to meet unit sale rate targets from retailers.

  17. This was the most interesting article I’ve ever read here. Thanks for your efforts!

    I loved how you connected Hershey’s chocolate making techniques to Jetsons. It was my favorite cartoon!

    The most interesting element of this article is: until now, I thought that additive manufacturing was only used for producing more industrial products such as home appliances. This is a completely new concept for me. I think this is the future of the food industry.

    I am wondering if a company would be able to produce fruits in the future by using additive manufacturing.

  18. The question around scaling this technology that the author poses is the same question that sits at the front of my mind upon reading this article. In reading through, I immediately thought of the potential for this technology to replace (or at least, mimic at a commodity-goods level) the types of creative chocolate sculptures and goods usually produced by the most talented artisan chocalatiers and chocolate artists. However, in the same way those artisans’ skillsets aren’t easily replicated, I wonder whether the printing technology at the Hershey’s Chocolate World can be replicated to fill Hershey’s production facilities and factories.

  19. Wow – printable chocolate, real game changer. My one reservation is the cost-effectiveness of scaling. In evaluating the feasibility of scaling this into other product lines, I’d be curious to know more information about the costs associated with additive manufacturing. Additionally, what are the health risks associated with using 3D printing within factories (i.e. allergy sensitivity, diversity of products within the same production plant).

  20. Interesting topic and great essay.

    My key concern is that such a novel manufacturing process would only supersede the current one if it’s either more economic or more valuable to customers. I am uncertain as to whether 3D printing chocolates is any of those.

    On the manufacturing side, the current manufacturing process in the chocolate industry is very mature and well-proven. On the demand side, my perception is that it is more a “fun application” (with low repeat sales) than a real demand boosted.

    Consequently, I wonder whether chocolate is an industry whether AM could really thrive.

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