Coca-Cola says IoT has the potential to transform its supply chain, soft drink sales and even new flavour creation
Coca-Cola believes the Internet of Things (IoT) can help it create new flavours of the famous soft drink that consumers want. and create efficiencies within its supply chain.
“We first started on IoT in 1982 when the first Coke [vending] machine was connected to the Internet,” Jane Gilmour, International CTO at Coca-Cola, told the Data Centre Dynamics Converged Europe event in London.
“Carnegie Mellon students put their machine online to see if the Coke was the right temperature and when it had been last refilled. That’s pretty much the challenge today. We want to make sure everyone who drinks a Coke has a good experience.”
The Internet of Coke
Given the use of IoT in logistics, it’s unsurprising that the majority of the firm’s activity is focused on getting its products to customers as efficiently as possible. It has more than 200 bottling partners and distributors around the world with Cuba and North Korea the only countries it doesn’t operate in.
“I think the IoT is very useful in things like supply chain management and we’re doing some works on more efficiently delivery systems,” Gilmour added. “It’s not the sexy headline but it’s a big driver.
“In some parts of Africa and India we use elephants and canoes to deliver Coca Cola. Can we Internet an elephant and would we want to?”
But Coca-Cola is now looking towards consumer applications. Like the Carnegie Mellon students, it wants to make Coke vending machines smart, so it can see which machines are busiest and which varieties are selling the most, along with other features like facial recognition and contactless payments technology.
Smart vending machines
In some developing countries, machines might be connected via satellite and will act as a Wi-Fi hotspot for the local community.
It will take time to get all its machines online though. Each unit has a lifespan of 15 years and just a third are ‘smart’. Gilmour also said it could put sensors in McDonalds soda fountains to ensure quality levels are maintained.
Other initiatives include a new Coke application that lets fizzy drink fans tell the company when a machine is empty or if they like or dislike a particular variety. Coca-Cola also wants to get coolers connected so it can see what drinks people are buying.
There are numerous varieties of Coca-Cola and other drinks made by the firm such as Fanta. In addition to the original version, Diet Coke and Coke Zero, other past and present flavours around the world include vanilla, lemon, orange and even raspberry.
Only a certain number can be packaged and distributed at any one time as entire bottling plants are dedicated to individual types. This means the company, and its bottling partner, need to be sure there is enough demand, meaning only the most popular survive.
Coca-Cola’s new freestyle machines have 150 different Coke concentrates that allow users to create their own varieties. For example, a person might choose two thirds lime soda and one third Vanilla Coke. This not only allows people to have their favourite drink without the need for bottling, but the information gathered could influence future flavours.
“Some of the combinations [aren’t my cup of tea],” said Gimour. “But that’s what people want.”
“We’re already a c loud-first organisation and have moved away from traditional data centres,” explained Gilmour, who said traditional infrastructure was too slow to meet customer decisions. “IoT offers endless possibilities.
“We have an aim that 80 percent of our compute environment will go online in the next few years.
But despite this faith in the cloud, Coca-Cola isn’t prepared to move everything there just yet.
“The recipe of Coca-Cola is not online it all – it’s in a vault in Atlanta,” Gimour assured Coke fanatics.
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