3D printing is being used across a range of industries, from construction to medical technology. Its use in the food industry continues to grow, allowing for customization across a number of categories. 3D printing of confectionery has focused primarily on chocolate and hard sugar candy, tut recent innovations have led to printing of gummy candy. In the US, retailer Dylan’s Candy Bar is offering in-store 3D printing, providing consumers with over 100 designs for candy that can be made in five minutes.

3D printing moves from hard candy to gummies

The first generation of 3D food printers included machines that could produce layered hard sugar and chocolate confectionery products. In January 2014, leading 3D printer manufacturer 3D Systems announced a multi-year joint venture development agreement with The Hershey Company to explore and develop innovative opportunities for using 3D printing technology in creating edible foods.

The partnership could create a whole new form of candy or develop new production methods, says William Papa, Hershey’s vice president and chief research and development officer. In fact, the company compares the 3D printer to the microwave oven, with the potential for customization to be significant. “3­D printed chocolate could become a permanent fixture at our retail stores in the near term, for example,” says Jeff Mundt, Hershey’s senior managing marketer of technology. “Consumers will be able to design their own piece of chocolate, have it printed before their eyes and take it home as a special souvenir.”

But, while hard sugar candy and chocolate confectionery have lent themselves well to the new technology, the 3D revolution has been stymied in its efforts to manage the ingredients used in gummy candy. Researchers discovered that not all ingredients were suitable for 3D printing, with gummy candy proving to be a distinctive challenge. Scientists have been focusing on the properties of pectin, a naturally occurring thickening agent most often added to jams, jellies and other sweets to help them gel and thicken. This led to innovations in 3D printed gummy candy, but the first versions of gummy printers produced candies that required three days to “set” into a solid form. But, a new printer from Katjes Fassin UK, called The Magic Candy Factory, can produce gummy confectionery in a reasonable length of time, while retaining the integrity of the ingredients.

Bringing the 3D printer into the candy store

It has taken less than 10 years for the 3D candy printer to move from the realm of fiction to the reality of the retail store. In the US, New York-based Dylan’s Candy Bar, an upscale, five-store sugar confectionery chain, partnered with Katjes’ Magic Candy Factory, becoming the 3D candy printer’s exclusive partner for domestic retail and online sales.

Consumers will have a choice of more than 100 designs for candy, with the capability of writing special names or words and/or printing greetings on gummy cards to create one-of-a-kind gifts. The gummies are made with vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free ingredients and have natural fruit and vegetable extracts instead of artificial colors. “With this product [consumers] are able to create any customized candy they can imagine,” according to Melissa Snover, managing director of The Magic Candy Factory.

The allure of 3D printing lies in the ability to customize confectionery, as described by Mintel Trend Make it Mine, which explains how the one-size-fits-all way of doing things is dead. According to Snover, the process of producing customized 3D gummy candy takes about 10 minutes, including a three-to-five minute printing time. The sweets can be further customized with edible glitter, or sour or fizzy candy dust. At this point, the candies will be available in eight flavors including strawberry and blackcurrant.

What we think

3D printing has evolved from a novelty item to a viable in-store tool. When the technology was first introduced, only a few uses were envisaged for them and the challenge for the food industry was to produce 3D ingredients that were tasty, stable, and edible. In confectionery, the first products to successfully meet the 3D challenge were chocolate and hard sugar confectionery, with gummy confectionery proving to be less successful. But, recent innovations have resulted in successful 3D printing of gummies, resulting in in-store technology that allows customization of gummy treats, suiting consumers’ desire for “their own special” candy.

Marcia Mogelonsky, Director of Insight, Food and Drink, has been with Mintel since 2000. Her expertise is centered on a number of areas in confectionery and snacks. Before joining Mintel, Marcia headed her own consulting company which focused on consumer behavior and product innovation in a wide range of industries.

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