UK soft drinks manufacturer Britvic has used a wide range of services from Amazon Web Services (AWS) to help create what it sees as the future of commercial dispensers, the Aqua Libra Co Flavor Tap.
AWS products deployed include a range of the vendor’s IoT solutions, such as Greengrass for edge device control, Defender for security, the AWS Lambda serverless computing platform, AWS S3 object storage and Amazon BI (Business Intelligence) tool, Quicksight.
Easy access to this portfolio has been key to its new internal innovation unit, Britvic Beyond the Bottle, being able to quickly bring the Flavour Tap to trial.
Speaking with diginomica at the recent AWS Summit in London, Steve Potts, Britvic Beyond the Bottle’s Managing Director, said the cloud-based tools allow the team to focus on design and consumer research, not “arguing with multiple suppliers around interfaces”.
His colleague Noel Dickson, Product Director at the unit, said that this meant that the team was able to get the Tap into prototype quickly. Dickson explained:
All the effort around infrastructure build you traditionally have, we've not had to do. Instead, we've been able to configure and evolve within the AWS various toolsets and focused our efforts on user interface, on liquid development, and on the experience.
That let us move at pace. In the middle of COVID we made an acquisition to speed up deployment - you would not be able to do that if you needed to be all about deploying the infrastructure.
Not just new infrastructure, but new company structure and culture thinking, too
The fruit of all this hard work by the team is a machine that tries to tempt office workers to keep hydrated through the business day by dispensing either still, sparkling or flavored water.
The device comes with a large touchscreen interface that provides users with a selection of products and dispenses a finished drink in seconds. Micro-doses of sugar-free flavouring are added into the water for users to fill glasses or water bottles.
The Flavor Tap is on trial at 25 major banks and technology company sites in London, say the pair, but will soon be targeted for not just workplaces but also hospitality and retail contexts.
Each Tap comes with onboarded technology to learn from users in real-time and adjust the flavors offered to meet their palate. Dickson said:
As all our recipes are stored in the cloud, we can send individual recipes down to each unit - so if a slightly stronger flavor variant seems to be popular in, say, one floor of an office building, we can tailor each unit to reflect that, and can change that on a daily basis.
Centralization of recipes through fleet management in the cloud is a real game-changer for us, because before we’d have had to send an engineer out to that unit to charge it.
Other benefits of this extensive use of AWS include being able to miniaturize the amount of packaging footprint, which was one of the key points of the Tap’s original business case, and to take advantage of micro-dosing, as each cabinet holds 500 ml printer-ink style cartridges that can dispense 1000 serves per cartridge.
In turn, these cartridges are smart, as they have embedded RFID technology, so location and other IoT data can be tracked. With all Tap use controlled by BI in the form of AWS QuickSight, this pushes back all consumption and error log data to the team.
And even though the Tap is still in initial field trial status, that’s already proving highly useful. Dickinson said:
As of yesterday, we’ve recorded 32,000 serves through the trial. We can see that we're getting pretty much a 50/50 split between water and flavors but we can also see the flavor variant split, the time of day people are using the Tap, and we can see operational effectiveness. We can also clearly see preferences.
We then communicate back to the customer so they have visibility into employee flavor preferences, overall hydration levels, and what is really happening on-site. This in turn helps us with our product development of the liquids.
Health and sustainability
Cloud-delivered consumer data like this is important for Beyond The Bottle, as it and its parent company have high hopes for this IoT-based product delivery.
Potts explained the business case for trying to innovate. He said:
In the soft drinks industry, there’s two big things: one is health, where Britvic takes a leadership position, and we do low and no sugar across all our brands, but equally as important is sustainability. We've got a whole story on what we are doing on our plastic bottles with recycling, but where the Tap comes in is offering drinks that don't come in single-use packaging.
In Tap’s case, the two come together, he said, as each serve contains zero calories and every Tap reduces packaging waste by 99% when compared with traditionally-packaged soft drinks.
Dickson claimed that a 24-can slab of carbonated tins can offer only 24 drinks, but in the same dimensions something like the Tap dispenser could offer 15,000, with all the associated reductions in carbon miles and packaging to get there. Also, one flavor cartridge change takes only 30 seconds, as well as effectively replacing 1,000 plastic bottles.
New thinking is also behind Beyond The Bottle itself, which Potts said was deliberately set up to harbor a start-up approach inside the bigger Britvic corporate mothership. Again, he claims AWS culture and its approach to partnership has proven just as important as all the tools and compute power he’s getting. Potts explained:
We've all seen tech companies, including Amazon approach innovation in a different way to the way that FMCG companies like us do. So, we've adopted that methodology and that culture of innovation within Aqua Libra, building from the ground up not just a new digital platform, but hardware, electronics, user interface, liquid developments - the whole stack - using the tech innovation mindset as much as the products.
Dickson said that another tech sector approach is also proving useful - the Amazon two pizza team approach - which mandates that all new product development teams must never be bigger than what could be satisfied with two pizzas for lunch. Proof of the usefulness of this, he added, was that the Tap went from original design to production in just four weeks.
Next steps for the Tap and cloud-powered hydration, said Potts, will be absorbing the lessons of the trial and then wide commercial roll-out in the UK. He added:
Wherever you now get packaged and flavored water, we want to have a solution - think holiday parks, supermarkets, convenience stores. There's lots of places that we could put one of our machines, and we’ll be getting as many out there as we can.