The mobile vending machine that PepsiCo recently launched at University of the Pacific has caused excitement among college students craving for a quick refreshment, but the U.S. food giant suggested that this is only the tip of the iceberg of when it comes to providing food service using artificial intelligence.
The self-driving robots, named as Snackbot, were developed through a partnership between PepsiCo and the Bay Area-based Robby Technologies.
At the moment, they deliver snacks and beverages from PepsiCo’s better-for-you portfolio Hello Goodness, which includes Smartfood Delight, Baked Lay’s, SunChips, Pure Leaf Iced Tea, bubly, LIFEWTR and Starbucks Cold Brew.
The Hello Goodness range was launched in 2015, and it has been boosting PepsiCo’s e-commerce and vending businesses.
The company previously conducted a Hello Goodness store test on Amazon back in 2017, and it showed its healthy snacking portfolio performed nearly 45% better than the sales from other similar campaigns and return on investment for advertising.
White space opportunity on campus
According toScott Finlow, VP of innovation and insights at PepsiCo Foodservice, students can order Hello Goodness items from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. via the Snackbot app, which is available for iOS with a University of the Pacific email address.
“Building upon the initial successes of our Hello Goodness platform, we began exploring how we could expand from more traditional vending machines into new formats,” he said.
“We dug deep into consumer insights and preferences, and together with our partners at Robby Technologies, [we] offer consumers the healthier snack and beverage options they are looking for in a fun, mobile-enabled convenient format as they navigate their busy on-the-go schedules on campus.”
PepsiCo believes that a growing need among university students to have easy access to snacks is a white space opportunity for its business.
“College students are strapped for time and they are seeking convenient and healthier options,” Finlow said, adding that University of the Pacific was an exiting customer, and it was “very receptive” to partnering with PepsiCo to adopt innovative technologies.
The purchased snacks can be sent to more than 50 designated areas across the 175-acre campus without charging delivery fees, according to PepsiCo.
The bots are ready to roll with a range of more than 20 miles on a single charge and are equipped with camera and headlights that allow them to see and navigate in full darkness or rain, as well as all-wheel drive capabilities for handling curbs and steep hills.
Asked how to ensure snacks are not stolen on their way, Finlow noted: “We trust students to be respectful of their campus and community overall.
“However, should issues arise, there are trained Snackbot technicians throughout campus, including student ambassadors who can help fellow students to navigate the app, and report any issues that Snackbot may be experiencing.”
He added that, at any time, there are three to five Snackbots on campus providing adequate capacity to meet current consumer demand. When certain items need to be restocked, Robby Technologies will also have a team on-site, including brand ambassadors, that is trained to replenish the items in each robot.
“As we learn from our work with Snackbot, we’ll continue doing work to understand evolving consumer needs and working closely with our partners to respond nimbly,” said Finlow.
On-the-go food provided by AI
PepsiCo’s executives reportedly attended the CES this past month in Las Vegas, Nevada, mulling possibilities of extending AI’s role in its business.
The emerging technology-focused show is expected to draw more investor interest than the ongoing World Economic Forum in Davos partially due to the U.S.-China trade tensions, according to the head of macroeconomic and geopolitical research at Barings, Christopher Smart.
“We’ve moving toward an economy dependent on vast interconnected data networks that move money, data and services across borders regardless of the rules that govern people and things,” Smart recently wrote in an op-ed piece.
However, PepsiCo is not the first multinational food and beverage company that has used AI to advance its vending business.
Coca-Cola China launched a vending machine a few months ago, using facial recognition and sound interaction to provide an interactive experience to the consumers. It also allows consumers to purchase beverages, as well as recycle used bottles and cans.
In 2017, Sweden-based startup Wheelys also debuted a moving 24-hour convenience store without staff or registers in Shanghai, China, designed to make direct deliveries to consumers and eventually drive itself to a warehouse to restock.
Finlow, who also attended the CES, did not detailed PepsiCo’s next plan with AI, but noted the team saw “incredible future applications for it.”
“It’s an area we’ll continue to watch closely and explore,” he said.
Date: January 24, 2019