A look at the new developments reshaping the sector
With phrases like “barrel-aged” this and “time-honored recipe” that, the beverage industry might seem like a strange fit for cutting-edge technology.
However, even today, new methodology and digital tools are helping ensure that manufacturers and distributors of beverages stay modern, use their resources effectively and, at the end of the day, deliver a memorable experience for customers and vendors. You can get a look at the future of industrial foods and beverages, today — so let’s dive in.
Automation Provides Cost Savings in Alcoholic Beverage Distribution
At the end of the day, the speed with which a food product travels from production floor to end-user is hamstrung by a tiny handful of simple tasks: 1) removing case packs and cartons from pallets to stow products in warehouses for temporary storage, and 2) re-packing those same products for redistribution, including shipping to individual users via e-commerce (more on that later).
The point is, there’s a lot of potential error during picking, stowing, and packing operations — and that means an opportunity to switch to automated sorting systems. Breakthrough Beverage Group provides a case study for companies everywhere. In their situation, automated retrieval systems allowed them to move to a smaller, cheaper facility outside Chicago proper — even while allowing the dispatch of faster-moving product in a matter of minutes whenever demand calls for it.
Automated conveyors can retrieve product from racking whenever it’s needed, bringing it to the proper packing station. It’s an encouraging model for other beverage companies of all types, along with their distributor-partners.
New Revenue Streams and More Direct Customer Relationships With E-Commerce
Entire industries and the accompanying shopping experiences seemed to move online practically overnight. For a variety of reasons, food and beverage sales haven’t kept pace with that trend. New technologies are looking to change all that, though.
By 2022, as many as 20 percent of all grocery-related transactions may happen online. If that comes to pass, e-commerce food and beverage sales could be worth $100 billion all by themselves.
Campbell’s Soup and Coca-Cola have been among the first major food companies to dive into online food shopping pilot programs. The idea is to create a new kind of supply chain: one which would turn bottling and boxing plants into combined B2B-B2C facilities. You’ll also hear this trend go by the name “D2C,” or “direct to community.”
Even Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has an e-commerce presence boasting exclusive merchandise and deals for at-home shoppers. The goal for each of these brands, and the many other companies that can now follow suit thanks to small business e-commerce solutions is twofold:
- Reduce overhead costs by marketing and shipping directly to end-users and cutting out intermediaries (distributors, vendors, retail shops, etc.) as often as possible.
- Encourage impulse purchases online for food and beverage products, effectively adding another revenue stream simply by leveraging an existing digital “footprint.”
Given the choice to do so, many customers would likely choose to pick up their critical food and beverage staples — as well as other hygiene and household products — directly from the companies that make them. It’s worth remembering that this is exactly what earned Harry’s Shave Co. one million customers in just a year. They appealed to the universal desire to get the things we need in as few steps as possible.
For food and beverage manufacturers, this is an important lesson in staying relevant. Given that as many as 64 percent of adults drink coffee daily, for example, it means the longer you leave this potential distribution channel untapped, the likelier it is one of your competitors will step into the game instead.
The Internet of Things Drives Quality Control in Cafés and Breweries
When it comes to physically preparing food and beverage products, it’s often the finer details that matter the most. Think about how far the average coffee bean travels from its origin country to the local coffee shop. Then, think about how much of that time, expense and effort goes to waste when that coffee isn’t prepared correctly or consistently.
In San Francisco, we can already see signs of a future where the barista’s role is likely to change. At Café X and elsewhere, automated coffee machines automatically dial in the correct settings, variables, and additives for each beverage, and beverage variant, on the menu. Maybe it sounds a little inhuman. But the companies designing these “robots” see baristas becoming more like tour guides and givers-of-advice for new patrons who might not know the menu. Meanwhile, the coffee gets prepared precisely the way it’s supposed to be prepared, every time.
The difference is, human employees don’t have to split their time and attention between being personable and helpful and being militarily precise in actually putting together the beverages.
It’s possible thanks to the Internet of Things. Busy cafés may have a number of brews going at once, so it simplifies things if customer orders can flow digitally and directly from the register or POS device to the beverage station. Plus, employees receive prompt notifications for each beverage in progress at each stage.
And speaking of brewing, the Internet of Things is changing the game for independent breweries as well as hobbyist brewing enthusiasts. As with the coffee-making process, beer fermentation is full of conditions to monitor and things that can go wrong. Connected technologies can help in a variety of ways.
Wireless sensors, for example, are easier and more cost-effective to deploy than the wired monitoring favored by industrial brewing operations. They also provide remote oversight for even the smallest details — like minor temperature fluctuations during fermentation that can throw off the alcohol content (or even ruin) entire batches of beverages.
More Game-Changing Innovations to Come
As you can see, the beverage industry is more than making up for lost time. You’ll find other exciting technological solutions for beverage makers, distributors, brewers, vendors, cafés, and bars, too. For example, before long, your bartenders may be issuing RFID tags to your pub patrons instead of getting flagged down for every pour.
Every technology cycle introduces worries that we’re stamping the humanity out of human experience. But that’s not necessarily true. If tech gives us an extra moment in the morning to make human conversation with our baristas, while a robot churns out a picture-perfect Macchiato, that feels just a little bit like progress.
Written by: Nathan Sykes
Nathan Sykes writes about technology and business online. Read his blog, Finding an Outlet, to stay up with the latest news.