Starting this month, Kraft Foods and partners are beta-testing touchscreen snack vending machines that offer consumers a variety of interactive features -- including instant access to ingredients/ nutrition information -- while enabling marketers to deliver animated, video and interactive advertising and targeted promotions.
The Diji-Touch machines -- developed by Kraft, Samsung and Crane Merchandising Systems -- are being tested in partnership with Next Generation Vending and Foodservice, Inc. at colleges and universities, healthcare facilities, transportation hubs and other high-traffic locations in the Boston metropolitan area. In addition to Kraft/Nabisco-brand snacks, the machines offer candy and snacks from other leading brands.
The machines feature a 46" Samsung LCD touchscreen panel in place of the usual glass facing, an embedded networked computer, and Bluetooth capabilities for mobile downloads. Banner ads stream across the top of the screen, and full-screen ads display when the machine is not in use.
With a touch of the screen, users can view rotating, 360-degree visuals of snack items and generate ingredients and nutrition details. They can opt to purchase more than one item at a time, and pay by credit card or cash (receiving cash-transaction change back in bills, rather than a cascade of coins).
The machine's computer enables tracking of all transactions and interactions, which facilitates inventory tracking and as-needed replenishment to avoid sellouts and maximize sales.
Kraft is the first food-product manufacturer to join with Samsung and partners to develop touchscreen, interactive machines. However, Coca-Cola, Samsung and Sapient were the first out of the box with the new technology, unveiling interactive, touchscreen beverage vending machines at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. That machine, which won a Gold Lion award at the 2009 Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, has since been being rolled out domestically and in international markets, reportedly with great success.
During Kraft's test, which will span several months, Nielsen will conduct consumer interviews to garner input and reactions to the machines, reports Mike Miller, director of marketing services, Kraft Foodservice. While the advertising, cross-sell, up-sell and digital promotion-generating capabilities clearly offer a wide variety of sales-enhancing opportunities for Kraft and other marketers, "we are first and foremost focused on the consumer's vending experience," says Miller. "We want consumers to feel better about the vending purchasing experience as a result of using these machines."
While Kraft is still in the development stage in regard to promotions, according to Miller, the technology's Internet-connected, Bluetooth-enabled capabilities would make it possible to deliver targeted digital coupons and offers to consumers' mobile phones.
Preliminary results are showing increases in product sales and encouraging feedback from consumers, reports Miller. If the test is successful, Kraft and partners hope to begin rolling out the machines nationwide by next year's second half, he says.
Given that news reports have noted changes in consumer food/beverage choices resulting from the restaurant menu nutritional disclosure laws already in effect in New York and some other markets, might calorie counts and other nutritional information for best-selling vending-machine snacks like candy, chips and cookies give consumers pause, perhaps affecting sales for some items?
Miller says that while snacks with healthier positioning haven't traditionally proven to be big sellers in vending machines, it's possible that consumer preferences could be influenced by point-of-sale access to nutritional information -- in which case, marketers will adjust selections accordingly.
He adds that currently, in addition to Kraft/Nabisco favorites like Planters Peanuts and Oreos cookies, the company's vending machine product mix includes items such as Snackwell's Creme Sandwich Cookies (Vanilla Creme), Baked Lay's Potato Crisps in BBQ and sour cream and onion varieties, and Wheat Thins Toasted Chips' veggie variety.