What if you could take almost any 3D design imaginable and turn it into an edible chocolate creation? That’s the type of world that Cocoa Press, a small startup from Philadelphia, envisions for everyone.
It offers a 3D printer capable of printing milk, dark, and white chocolate in the same way a normal 3D printer would extrude plastics. The idea is to give businesses a new way to attract customers and stand out from the crowd. Of course, there’s nothing stopping an everyday consumer from getting their very own chocolate 3D printer.
It Started with an Idea
The idea for Cocoa Press was born in 2014 when founder Evan Weinstein developed a passion for 3D printing. As for how he settled on printing everyone’s favorite sweet treat, Weinstein says, “I stumbled on chocolate.”
The young founder continued to develop the idea for Cocoa Press during his time at the University of Pennsylvania. Just a few years later, in 2019, the startup was tapped for the Pennovation Accelerator. Throughout the accelerator process, Weinstein and the Cocoa Press team developed their 3D chocolate printer and sharpened their vision of making it accessible to everyone.
Per the startup’s website, “Cocoa Press hopes to inspire confectionery innovation, enhance chocolate experiences, and spark creativity in everyone.”
To Print Chocolate
Many people are already familiar with the idea of 3D printing. Essentially, a very hot nozzle is used to extrude thin layers of material atop a build plate. The printer then continues adding layers on top until the model is completed.
Cocoa Press works in roughly the same way. That being said, it is a bit more refined than the 3D printers used to create plastic models. It features a precise heating system that’s designed to keep the chocolate tempered throughout the printing process. The chocolate “ink” refill used for the printer comes pre-tempered, so it simply needs to hold the temperature steady. This results in prints that maintain their shape and don’t melt at room temperature.
To help accomplish this, Cocoa Press features a climate-controlled print chamber. It manages humidity and temperature throughout the printing process to prevent the chocolate from blooming or being compromised in any other way.
The printer is constructed from food-grade stainless steel parts to ensure that the final product is safe for consumption—and remains delicious.
Operating Cocoa Press is as easy as working any other 3D printer. In other words, it isn’t foolproof, but should be simple enough for casual users.
Why Not Use a Mold?
The thought of creating 3D models out of chocolate is enticing. After all, the possibilities are endless. However, one might wonder why a 3D printer is necessary when molds exist. Artisans and home candy makers are able to create fairly intricate chocolate structures with cheap plastic molds.
A printer that costs several thousand dollars ($5,500 to be exact) seems like an outrageous expense. That’s the same thing that many people say about regular 3D printers.
Ultimately, you don’t need something like Cocoa Press to make cool things out of chocolate. It just makes the process much easier—and far more intuitive.
Cocoa Press works just like any other 3D printer in the sense that you can design models online, download them to an SD card, and start printing. Within an hour, you can pull a design from your imagination and start manufacturing it in chocolate. While molds are great for making certain designs, they don’t let you flex your imagination. Cocoa Press gives you creative reign over your chocolate empire.
That isn’t the only benefit though. Cocoa Press says that the actual printing process can elevate the taste and experience of eating chocolate. It says, “We use high quality, artisanal chocolate so it always tastes amazing. Not only does it taste great, complex internal structures in the chocolate can create new sensory experiences.”
Ideal for Marketing
Something like Cocoa Press probably isn’t a realistic purchase for most consumers. However, it could be a valuable asset for certain companies. Bakeries, flower shops, and novelty stores alike could wow visitors with custom-printed chocolates.
Imagine being able to print the names of the bride and groom as an edible wedding cake topper. Think of the possibility of printing a chocolate vase to house a few chocolate roses for Valentine’s Day. Things like chocolate Easter bunnies could easily be customized with names, dates, and slogans. Once again, with something like Cocoa Press the possibilities are endless.
Tapping Into the Market
According to a report from GrandView Research, the worldwide chocolate industry was worth $130.5 billion in 2019. People certainly won’t lose their taste for chocolate anytime soon. So, that number will likely continue to grow.
However, the chocolate world is starting to feel a little saturated. Large candy companies like Hershey and Mars have a stranglehold on the majority of the market share. Smaller brands tend to focus on high-quality ingredients or ethically-sourced cocoa beans.
A creative, fun approach like Cocoa Press could help smaller businesses differentiate themselves from other players in the chocolate game. The startup’s gallery shows off some of the many designs its printer is capable of producing.
Moving forward, Weinstein and Cocoa Press are working to finalize shipments of their first chocolate 3D printer. The first units are expected to ship this coming summer after the final stages of prototyping and production are completed.
Weinstein tells TechCrunch, “We don’t want to be competing with the thousands of chocolate shops already out there. We just want to get the chocolate printer out into the world. The business model is the machines plus the consumables for people who don’t have a background in chocolate.”
“I’m really excited about working with these small shops because they make some interesting stuff,” he adds.
It will certainly be interesting to see where this sweet startup goes in the coming years. If Cocoa Press is able to catch on, it could capture a big chunk of the billion-dollar chocolate industry and reshape the way consumers think of candy.