Someday in the future, that is.
For now, chocolate fans will have to go to Hershey headquarters in Pennsylvania for a sweet 3-D fix. In May, the confectioner plans to install a permanent 3-D chocolate printer exhibit at its Chocolate World attraction, where consumers can order their own likenesses and other custom shapes. The CocoJet printers were first showcased at Chocolate World in December, then at CES in Las Vegas earlier this month.
Hershey built the printers in collaboration with one of the largest and oldest 3-D-printing companies, 3D Systems. Just six months into testing, the team is on the fourth iteration of the printer and a similar number of chocolate recipes. The latest is a 2-foot-by-2-foot glass and metal cube where scientists preside over chocolate creations built layer by layer. The process can take from a few minutes to an hour or more depending on the complexity of the design.
"This technology will be fundamental to the way people interact
with food in the future," said Jeff Mundt, senior marketing manager
of technology at Hershey's innovation center. "If we don't get on
the edge and lead the way to edible food printing, somebody else
will do it for us. And we're all about innovation."
That said, he has no definitive answers about what that future holds. The 3-D printing initiative is about discovery, with input from consumers and partners.
"Our approach is launch to learn, rather than learn to launch," Mr. Mundt said. "Put something out in front of people and see how they respond to it. Tweak it, come back with another iteration and go from there."
A consistent taste is key for the Hershey brand. In this case, that means the 3-D recipes -- chocolate is extruded through special metal-nozzled cartridges -- must have the same taste as the bars they're mimicking. Hershey already has wings in its headquarters dedicated to the work of food scientists and sensory experts who make sure flavor profiles, consistency and texture are on brand for all of its products. Three-D chocolate is just another addition to the quality-control team's mandate.
For now, 3-D printing at Hershey means consumers can commission a custom, edible wedding cake topper or greeting card. But the future could bring other uses. While Hershey execs wouldn't commit to specifics, they agreed that distributed manufacturing with the ability for mass-scale 3-D printing in areas without Hershey manufacturing facilities, as well as non-chocolate 3-D food printing, are considerations for the company.