For the beleaguered snack-and-soda vending business, help is on the way in the form of iPhone-inspired interactive machines.

Rotating ads and electronic images of product packages are displayed on a 46-in. LCD touch-screen panel in Kraft Foods’ Diji-Touch vending machine. By touching an image, users can access nutrition information and a 360° enlarged view of the package.

S pecialized packages for alternative distribution are established parts of the Kraft Foods repertoire, and the company’s Vending & Office Coffee Service (OCS) division is living up to that tradition by breaking new ground with equipment that taps into changing consumer tastes and expectations.

At the recent National Automated Merchandising Association show, Kraft introduced the Tassimo Professional designed specifically for coffee service, one of the bright spots in the beleaguered vending business. A commercial version of a single-serve coffee maker, Tassimo Pro is “the home machine on steroids,” says Charley Orwig, Tassimo Pro business manager. The machine’s bar-code reader identifies what type of T-disc is being placed in the machine; customization options let users “mix and match to come up with about 70 different [coffee] recipes,” he says.

As with K-cups, T-discs mean more packaging waste, a sensitive issue Kraft is addressing by “greening up” single serve, Orwig says. Two Rainforest Alliance-certified coffee SKUs are part of the line. The T-disc pods are manufactured in a Pennsylvania facility certified as “zero landfill,” with waste either recycled or used to produce energy. And Kraft has created a program to collect and “repurpose” used pods.

The biggest buzz at the show involved a machine Kraft commissioned: the Diji-Touch, an iPhone-inspired vending machine. Kraft worked with Crane Merchandising Systems and Samsung Electronics to design and build the interactive machine, which features a 46-in. LCD touch-screen panel to display the snacks inside. (A comparable display was developed by Samsung for a Coke machine that debuted at the Beijing Games in 2008, though considerable functionality has been added since.)

While Diji-Touch’s panel emulates a smart-phone experience, the technology’s real power is in marketing and merchandising. A wireless Ethernet connection is included, explains Canyon DeVille, engineering director at St. Louis-based Crane, allowing remote control of video ads and the rotation of product images on the panel. “The placement of products affect sales,” he points out, and placing best sellers at eye level should increase sales. The wireless connection also facilitates credit card sales. “When you take plastic, people tend to spend more, and the price is not as sensitive,” notes Michael Kasavana, a Michigan State University professor.

Sales-reporting software alerts the vending operator to replenishment needs, allowing dynamic scheduling of route drivers. This is a real plus since wringing inefficiencies from the supply chain is an industry focus, particularly in mainstay soft-drink and snack dispensing, where healthy-eating trends and a declining industrial workforce are eroding sales. Average profitability for vending operators is estimated at 1.9 percent, and higher gas prices are reducing margins further.

Enhancing the interactive experience may help increase sales, and hopes are high for Diji-Touch. Besides activating a revolving, 360° view of the product, users can access calorie and nutritional information, ensuring compliance with new requirements in the healthcare reform act. 

For more information:
Canyon DeVille, Crane Merchandising Systems, 314-623-8043,
Charley Orwig, Kraft Foods Inc., 847-646-2422