Surging self-service innovation responds to tech-empowered consumers

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The 2021 NAMA Show in New Orleans hosted a wealth of education sessions and a trade show showcasing extensive innovations.

Surging self-service innovation responds to tech-empowered consumersPhoto courtesy of the National Automatic Merchandising Association.

Aug. 30, 2021

After 18 months of pandemic restrictions, the convenience services industry got a dose of inspiration at the National Automatic Merchandising Association Show at the Ernest N. Morial Center in New Orleans last week.

Not everyone planning to attend was able to experience the progress on display at the convention as the city of New Orleans reimposed some COVID restrictions early in the week, causing a number of exhibitors and attendees to cancel their plans. But those who came found the journey well worth their time.

The educational sessions focused on pressing business and operational issues facing operators, while the trade show showcased an exceptional wealth of innovation. One undisputable takeaway is that product, equipment and technology manufacturers have used the pandemic downtime to develop products to meet a more technologically empowered consumer.

Touchless options were a common theme at many equipment exhibits, driven by the pandemic and the improved convenience consumers are demanding. Such technologies have expanded beyond mobile wallets, tap-and-pay and facial recognition to include eye tracking. In addition, payment technology providers introduced cryptocurrency payment acceptance for vending machines.

On the product side, functional and wellness options were more visible, complementing the traditional food, beverages and snacks.

Following are highlights from the trade show floor in alphabetical order.

Dan Fletcher presents the Aquabeve touchless bottled water dispenser.

Aquabeve

Aquabeve introduced its Inspirations touchless bottled water and filtration coolers that use infrared sensors to activate water dispensing.

The user places their cup in the dispense area for cold water or activates the hot water safety sensor first to dispense hot water. The user can stop dispensing at any time by removing the cup from the dispense area.

The units, available in black and white, work with a variety of cups and glasses.

Dispensers are available for bottled water or point-of-use filtration applications.

Tristan Goldberg shows the SimpliGet pickup locker from Avanti Markets.

Avanti Markets

Avant Markets, a micro market kiosk hardware and software provider, introduced its SimpliGet pickup locker, enabling convenience services operators to expand their reach and share of customer business. The locker is part of an online ordering system that notifies customers when orders are ready for pickup.

The system provides a contactless way for customers to order and integrates with an operator’s existing kitchen or local food partners. Customers place orders using funds from their Avanti Market Card accounts. Once a customer places an order, the kitchen receives the order and the customer receives an SMS or email notification to pick up the order at the locker.

Operators can set up SimpliGet locations through the platform they already use for Avanti Markets. The SimpliGet Manage site allows them to manage menus and track orders and deliveries.

Hannah Erickson of Irisbond demonstrates the eye tracking technology at the Azkoyen booth.

Azkoyen Group

The Azkoyen Group, a Spanish multinational technology company that manufactures automated products, demonstrated eye tracking technology from Irisbond that will allow customers to control the drink selection process simply by staring at the screen.

The user stares at the sections on the screen to activate the coffee selection and preparation processes. Infrared-based eye tracking technology analyzes the user’s gaze, enabling the user to control the functions without touching the machine.

Faustino Salcedo shows the Vitro M5 coffee machine to be introduced in the U.S. in 2022.

The technology does not require or store user information.

The Irisbond technology was demonstrated on a free standing display screen that controlled order and preparation for a nearby coffee dispensing machine. The eye tracking technology will be incorporated into the actual coffee machine.

Azkoyen Group also demonstrated its Vitro M5 coffee machine with fresh milk, which will be available in the U.S. in 2022.

The current Vitro 5 available in the U.S. features Azkoyen “air touch” technology that allows a consumer to obtain a product without touching the machine. The user can select product holding his or her fingers from up to two centimeters from the selection panel surface.

Cantaloupe Systems Inc. introduced several products and enhancements.

Cantaloupe Systems Inc.

Cantaloupe Systems Inc. announced several products and enhancements.

  • The company’s acquisition of Yoke Payments, announced a day before the convention, brings Cantaloupe a self-checkout kiosk that integrates with the company’s inventory management and payment processing platforms.
  • The Campus Card enables students to add campus cards to their mobile wallets, enabling them to pay for goods on campus and access amenities. The functionality will be compatible with ePort G10 readers and is only available with Apple Wallet at launch, with Android compatibility to be added in the near future.
  • The company’s MORE mobile engagement now includes browser-based app-less experience to enable payment with cryptocurrency, touchless vending and loyalty programs. Cryptocurrency payments will be available on Cantaloupe ePort readers through the company’s recent integration with the Bakkt platform and will be available in the fall of 2021.
  • ePort Engage, the next generation of the ePort interactive touchscreen, offers a 3.5-inch color touchscreen and accepts EMV chip and other payment types.
  • ePort Engage Combo, a 2.5-inch screen version of the Engage reader, fits over a machine’s bill validator and supports two different bill acceptors: Coinco and MEI – 66mm for U.S. bills and 72mm for Canadian bills.
  • Seed Warehouse App, a mobile app version of the existing warehouse app, will be offered on both Apple and Android devices in winter of 2021.
  • Seed Mobile will be available on Android devices through the Android app store by spring of 2022.
  • The list of compatible machines for remote price change will include Royal G3 (660/804) and Dixie Narco BevMax 4 beverage machines by winter of 2021.
Doug Bledsoe shows the non-mechanical cooler from Delivery Concepts Inc.

Delivery Concepts Inc.

Delivery Concepts Inc., a manufacturer of delivery solutions for the food industry, presented a non-mechanical cooler that uses gel packs to keep products frozen overnight. The unit uses 3-inch insulation and convection heating to ensure a consistent temperature without the need of open flames or propane gas.

The vehicle inserts are compatible with most chasses and can be used in combination with vehicle conversions to add an interior holding oven in a refrigerated vehicle.

Kellie Langeness presents the touchless Smartwell dispenser at the Elkay booth.

Elkay

Elkay presented its Smartwell beverage dispensers with touchless operation that allows customers to view nutritional information from a mobile device and create custom beverages.

The customer downloads the free app to their mobile device, opens the app and scans the QR code on the screen to make selections and dispense their beverage.

The operator can manage all connected Smartwell units from an Internet portal, where they can receive alerts to replace flavors, enhancements, filters and carbon dioxide. The operator can automatically order new multi-use pouches and filters and review dashboards to understand performance and usage trends.

Elkay service providers handle carbon dioxide tank replacement and can perform preventative maintenance using touchscreen prompts.

Colleen Morris demonstrates the Fastcorp machines.

Fastcorp Vending

Fastcorp Vending demonstrated several robotic machines, conveyor machines and custom vending machines.

The Divi series of robotic machines that move product from the shelves to the retrieval bin using a robotic arm offer several temperature options, including ambient, refrigerated, frozen and ambient with refrigerated or frozen.

The Sami series conveyor machines use a drop sensor for dispensing, a proprietary T3 conveyor system and a touchscreen that allows content control for running ads, promotions and videos. The machines accept credit cards, debit cards, tap-and-pay as well as Apple Pay.

One custom machine on display featured quick-frozen coffee beads and creamers under the…

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