Katjes uses 3D printing to connect with customers

As the technology advances, many companies have started to use 3D printing for prototyping, product design and manufacturing. German candy-maker Katjes is adding a new dimension to the mix: It is using the world’s first food-grade 3D gummy printer to print customized gummy candy and to connect with its customers.

As the technology advances, many companies have started to use 3D printing for prototyping, product design, and – to a lesser degree – manufacturing. The German candy-maker Katjes is adding a new dimension to the mix: It is using the world’s first food-grade 3D gummy printer to print customized gummy candy and to connect with its customers by providing a unique and fun customer experience.

When the doors of the “Grün Ohr Café” (Green Ear Café) in Berlin opened a few days ago, there was a crowd lining up to try out the ‘Magic Candy Factory’. The 3D printer named ‘Magic Candy Factory’ is a fused deposition modeling (FDM) printer putting out strings of candy which, when layered, create 3D shapes. A heated extrusion system warms up the gummy candy mass consisting of vegan, gluten- and lactose free ingredients, real fruit puree and vegan gels.

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The mass then flows through a syringe pump and onto the build plate below. This is where the candy cools and hardens as additional layers are laid on top, building up a 3-dimensional piece of candy one layer at a time. Each 10-gram piece of candy takes around five minutes to print. Using an iPad interface to customize their candy, customers are able to choose between 10 flavors like mango, apple, blackberry and seven colors in different shapes including hearts, octopus, butterflies and frogs.

Watching the candy form under one’s eyes has been a mesmerizing experience, especially for kids who were able to print their names or favorite shapes in the store as well as gummy candy greeting cards. Melissa Snover, managing director of Katjes Fassin UK, and her team have worked for a year practically non-stop to develop the printer. For Katjes, using a 3D printer has been an obvious choice: “We have been fascinated for a long time by the technology and by the idea to develop customized candy for each of our customers”, says Katjes spokeswoman Anna Robbert.

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“We just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to develop the world’s first 3D printer for gummy candy”. And not only that: Katjes also brought their printer to market sooner than companies like Hersey and Barilla who have been experimenting with 3D food printing for a while. Katjes’ new process also meant adjusting the recipe for the gummy candy: Conventionally produced gummy candy takes up to 72 hours to cool, in the 3D printing process, the candy is ready to eat in less than 10 minutes.

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Melissa Snover who had founded the candy maker Goody Good Stuff before joining Katjes especially likes the fact that the Magic Candy Factory allows to connect learning, lifestyle and nutrition. “The Magic Candy Factory provides a playful way for children and adults to learn something about the technological aspects of 3D printing and the ingredients of food and this knowledge can have a positive impact on their lifestyle and health”. That doesn’t mean that Katjes recommends eating gummy candy as a meal replacement but the company tries to stay clear of known allergens and focuses on vegan, natural ingredients.

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The Magic Candy Factory will be commercially available in early 2016, according to Katjes. Customers are expected to be theme parks, shopping centers, and all kinds of companies that aim to provide a unique experience to its customers. But more important than sales is the customer experience itself. By interacting with the brand in a novel and fun manner, customer engagement rises and the brand develops a distinct profile as an innovator with a healthy, delicious product. By using the first gummy candy 3D printer in such a new and public way, Katjes has demonstrated how new technology can become a part of the marketing mix.