Some Like it Hot
Sarah Theodore

If you’re a regular coffee drinker — or have ever pulled an all-nighter studying for finals, putting together a career-making report or pacing the hallways of a hospital — chances are you’ve had coffee from a vending machine. Not something you’d willingly repeat, I’m guessing. Well, Starbucks thinks it can change that. The company has just announced two systems that it believes will revolutionize coffee vending.
The North American Coffee Partnership, Starbucks’ joint venture with PepsiCo, will roll out a new hot vending platform codenamed the “Hot Boss” late this year. The machines feature heat-on-demand technology, which was developed and is owned by Pepsi. Coffee is packaged in 9.5-ounce insulated steel containers, which are heated to 140 degrees within 47 seconds when a selection is made. The company says the cans are fully recyclable, and the machines will feature Starbucks flavors such as Caffe Latte, Caffe Mocha, Caffe Mocha Light, Caramel Latte and Hot Cocoa.
“This is a transformational machine,” says Tracy Doucette, general manager of the North American Coffee Partnership. The concept currently is in test market, and the company plans a wider launch of the machines later this year, with full rollout planned by the second quarter of 2008.
For locations that have high coffee demand, but not enough to warrant a full café, Starbucks also is rolling out the Seattle’s Best self-serve coffeehouse. The machine is technically not a vending machine, but uses grind-on-brew technology and real milk to serve up semi-customized coffee drinks.
The hot vending units will be serviced by Pepsi distribution personnel, just like Pepsi soft drink vending machines, while the self-serve units will be located in supermarket accounts, where store personnel can replenish coffee beans and milk when necessary.
The idea of Starbucks getting into vending at first seems to be counterintuitive. The company built a reputation by convincing consumers that high-quality coffee comes from baristas who prepare your order on the spot. But in a press video on the new technology, company Chairman Howard Schultz observes that vending today is at the point retail coffee was when Starbucks started out. The company believes it can shape the vending industry the same way it shaped the rest of the coffee business. Since Starbucks also operates in a number of non-coffee areas these days, that influence could carry over into other on-the-go beverages as well. If that’s the case, the vending industry might be in line for a big pick-me-up.
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