“We wanted to have fresh, good coffee, and when we were talking to suppliers they asked, ‘Who is going to be brewing the coffee?’ And I said, ‘Well, we can’t do that because we have no staff,’” recalls Johnson. “And so, I reached out to Smyze a couple years ago, wanting to learn more about their Robobarista, and they were thrilled because they wanted to expand into North America.”
The Smyze Robobarista is already at retailers across Switzerland and in China.
Making the voyage to Canada in a cargo ship from Europe, Vendor Convenience recently received its special delivery and installed the 2-by-2-metre self-contained kiosk complete with touchscreen menu. (Customers can also place orders via app.)
The Robobarista has been serving drinks to customers since Aug. 19, and has generated buzz. That includes increasing sign-up to the Vendor Convenience app, which is required for customers to enter and shop in the store by having purchases charged to their registered payment info.
“People are coming in groups to see the machine, make an order and watch it in action. Some of them even Facetime their friends as it happens,” says Johnson. “It’s almost part spectacle.”
The spectacle includes the speed by which the robotic arm maneuvers (“in 60 seconds, you can have a latte”) and ability to make dozens of different drinks to individual specifications, from milk type, sugar content, ice volume and so on.
But aside from the entertainment value of the next-generation beverage station, most importantly Robobarista produces a good cup of java. While Johnson pushed for having local roasts, he says the Smyze team is adamant about providing their own high-quality European brew and says even coffee aficionados approve of the taste.
“We didn’t offer coffee initially and it was one of the things people wanted,” he says. “We’re a convenience store mostly and then grocery, so late morning and evening is when a lot of people do their shopping. Early morning is a bit slow, and the Robobarista has worked in bringing foot traffic to the store.”
Johnson didn’t buy the Robobarista, which would have cost a small fortune given he was told the technology costs about $250,000 to $300,000. Instead, he says, “We have a partnership and share in the revenues it generates. We look after the machine, perform the daily maintenance and stock it up, but it’s theirs.”
Pricing is reasonable: a 7-oz flat white costs $4.50 and other drinks $4.99. “With our cashierless model, we can have lower prices,” Johnson notes.
In a statement, Smyze CEO Daniel Adamec said, “We couldn’t have asked for a better city than Edmonton to introduce our Robobarista in North America,” noting that the Alberta capital has a thriving tech sector.