Did you catch the Seattles Best Coffee (SBC) bean-to-cup vending machine in the Starbucks and Crane booths at the National Automatic Merchandising Association OneShow?
A lot of you did, judging from comments Ive received.
Starbucks, which owns SBC, has taken a close look at the vending channel. This machine could do a lot to revive hot beverage vending, which took a beating even before the recession.
The SBC product, at 12 and 16 ounces, tastes great. The machine looks fabulous.
Vending operators have long missed the boat when it comes to branding their hot drink machines, which is one reason that segment has suffered so much.
Some vendors, such as Canteen, have branded their hot drink machines with house brand coffee. But national brands have long been missing in action.
Some observers think Starbucks is placing SBC into vending as a way to put some distance between SBC and its flagship Starbucks brand. Those who say this arent familiar with Starbucks business philosophy.
Starbucks has done more to bring SBC to market in the last year than all of its previous owners ever did combined. The brand has been introduced to Burger King, Subway and other chains, supported by national advertising.
But the onus for maintaining SBCs reputation for excellence in vending falls first on vending operators. Theyre the ones with the most to gain or lose if that brands reputation suffers.
More than most other product categories, coffee has been undermined by the cost-based approach vending operators take.
Diedrich Coffee introduced a Gloria Jeans branded vending machine in 2003, but got few takers.
Hopefully, vending operators have learned some things about the importance of branded coffee.
The advances in single-cup brewing technology have already allowed national coffee brands to help revolutionize office coffee service.
Branding deserves attention given the fact that other retail competitors, such as c--stores, supermarkets and specialty stores, are aggressively marketing branded coffee.
There is no good reason that hot beverage vending cant revitalize.