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Making Twizzlers Green

By Scott Barsotti

Working with the Hershey Company, Heinz College students found ways to optimize energy efficiency in the production process of their iconic licorice.

If one of your top products is known for its bright red color, you need to think creatively about how to make it green.

Twizzlers—especially in the original strawberry flavor with their signature twist—have been one of the Hershey Company’s most beloved candies for decades. They come in many flavors and varieties, they’re vegan-friendly, and let’s be honest, you haven’t truly lived until you’ve used a Twizzler as a straw. (If you haven’t, stop reading this right now and go fix that. We’ll be here when you get back.)

All the cool kids are doing it.
(via GIPHY)

But to make Twizzlers, you need a fair amount of electricity—in particular, to give them that famous twist. (Fun fact: that part is called “extrusion”).

Hershey tapped a group of Heinz College students from the Master of Information Systems Management (MISM) program to analyze the Twizzlers manufacturing process with an eye on energy efficiency as part of Hershey’s broader environmental goals. The students found several ways for Hershey to reduce electricity use without sacrificing product quality.

"The goal of the project was to target a 10 percent improvement in energy efficiency at Hershey’s Lancaster confectionary plant. The project explored opportunities to refine or transform production and maintenance processes,” said Louis Melocchi, who served as the team’s faculty advisor.

Twizzlers production spans five main phases: cooking, cooling, extrusion, drying, and packaging. And among those five major steps, extrusion stood out not because it has the oddest name, but because the team determined it was one of the most energy-intensive parts of making a pack of Twizzlers. The cooking and drying phases also make up a significant percentage of total energy use, but the students saw extrusion as the greatest opportunity to reduce energy consumption.

The student team took data from sensors and other sources collected at Hershey’s Lancaster facility and used predictive analytics to identify variables that affected electricity consumption at the plant. Once those variables were determined, the students came up with 14 distinct recommendations that Hershey could consider. Some of these could be implemented quickly for relatively low cost, such as optimizing warm-up times for temperature-sensitive processes, and investigating ways to recycle energy from steam and other gases; others involved longer-term investments like transitioning to renewable energy sources or generating energy on-site.

“Our team offered practical ways for Hershey to implement energy-saving procedures,” said Melocchi. “The project recommendations could also have broader appeal to other manufacturers who are searching for ways to not only be smarter in their operations, but also to address the increasing environmental, social, and governance demands we are seeing from regulators, shareholders, and consumers today.”

For Heinz College students, capstone projects provide a priceless opportunity to learn by doing, taking a hands-on approach to an actual business issue. That type of applied experience stands in stark contrast to the typical grad school experience of writing a thesis paper—capstone projects allow students to have a real impact on a real company before they graduate. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Except, of course, when candy is involved.

“We were surprised at how many varieties of Twizzlers there actually are. During one session, we sampled most of them and had a lot of fun eating our way through class,” said Melocchi. “Our students enjoyed the sugar rush, and the opportunity to make a difference for one of our valued partners."

This capstone project was completed by Siena Duplan, Meghna Jani, JinJing Luo, Yushi Yao, and Jianfu Zhang. 

Learn more about the MISM program