One of the key themes to emerge from leading industry tradeshow HostMilano in 2019 was the growing influence of automation. Technology is impacting many facets of the coffee industry, which, for espresso machines, has manifested in the rise of super-automatics.
While bean-to-cup machines are firmly entrenched in the European market, in the United States, automation is still finding its feet.
“Most of the coffee consumed in America has traditionally been filter coffee, but that’s changing,” says Shelley Viola, Project Manager at Rancilio Group North America.
“Super-automation in the European market is saturated and highly competitive, whereas in the US, it’s very young. There is so much potential and people are starting to recognise the benefits that bean-to-cup machines bring.”
Egro’s Next Touch Coffee is the latest addition to its super-automatic range. The machine was showcased at HostMilano and is now being used to spearhead Egro’s push into the American market.
According to Viola, Next Touch Coffee is already gaining rapid popularity in American convenience stores for its ability to produce little waste and reduce cost of labour.
“Cost of ownership is very important. Constantly having someone brewing fresh coffee and cleaning coffee urns takes time and produces waste. Next Touch Coffee solves this issue by being completely bean-to-cup, preparing drinks on demand without any staff assistance,” Viola says.
“It’s also extremely low-maintenance. The machine only needs one preventative service per year and is self-cleaning. Every morning you pop a cleaning tablet in and in three minutes it’s done.”
One of the only manual tasks the operator needs to do is refill the coffee beans. The machine has four bean hoppers, providing consumers up to eight choices of beverages, as beans can be blended.
Next Touch Coffee also features an intelligent algorithm-based patented Self-Adjusting Grinder. The grinder acts as if it is barista-controlled, changing its settings based on factors like temperature and bean freshness to consistently produce high-quality espresso.
“The machine produces premium-tasting coffee. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback from consumers, people from the industry, and competitors,” Viola says.
“Everyone in the industry wants consistency, [and] it’s one of the biggest advantages that our machine provides. Once the operator dials in their coffee, the machine will continue to adjust itself to deliver that time and time again.”
Next Touch Coffee is built to be compact yet powerful. The main unit is 30 centimetres-wide and has the capacity to deliver 200 cups per day.
“Store owners are putting multiple machines in their shops because of their size. They are stacking three or four machines together to create these high-quality coffee stations which people are drawn to,” Viola says.
“Having great coffee helps them to sell other things too so it’s a real win-win – a customer will come in to buy a coffee and end up walking out with chips, jerky, and gas as well.”
While Egro Next Touch Coffee is becoming firmly established in the convenience store sector, Viola is optimistic that its innovative design can lead to widespread success in the greater American market.
“It’s the natural progression of coffee in the US. Consumers today want premium coffee that’s freshly brewed and ethically sourced,” she says. “College campuses, offices, senior living facilities, and hotels are just some examples of key growth opportunities.”
For the hotel sector, Egro is in the early stages of adapting its technology so guests can use their hotel room keys as a tool to buy coffee from its Next Touch Coffee machines.
“It fits in with the idea of ‘hydration stations’ that hotels are moving towards. This is the idea of having a coffee and snack station on each hotel floor that is fully automated. Guests can step out of the room and buy a coffee using their room key so it’s really convenient,” Viola says.
Complementary to the coffee itself, Next Touch Coffee boasts an Android integrated interface and 10.1-inch touchscreen. The screen is built to be highly customisable for operators and easy to use for consumers.
“We’ve won a few key accounts here in the US purely because of the machine’s customisation options and ability to be branded so easily,” Viola says.
“Egro is a highly technology-focused company. We are at the forefront of app integration.”
Operators can change wallpaper, add branding imagery, and use promotional videos on the touchscreen. It can also be set up to display useful information about the coffee, such as bean origin and beverage calorie count.
“A technician is required to adjust the screen on most super-automatic coffee machines, but with the integrated Android technology, doing this on the Next Touch Coffee is as easy as using your phone,” Viola says.
As well as using the machine’s advanced technology for marketing and display information, Egro is working on adapting the Android system for specialised purposes across niche industries, such as aged care and people living with disabilities.
“There is also work being done to make the great coffee accessible to elderly Americans and people with disabilities. For people who may have difficulty physically operating the touchscreen, we have a designed an additional external touchscreen which is easier to reach and control.”
Egro and other likeminded espresso machine manufacturers are contributing to the growth of super-automation in the American coffee market, and according to Viola could shift the boundaries of coffee shop operation.
“I personally think the future of super-automation in coffee will be alternative points of sale. Things like an unmanned kiosk at the airport or coffee stations that require no human presence,” she says.
“It all fits into the wider concept of frictionless stores and retail centred around self-service and self-checkouts. There’s endless potential to where it can go, which will create tremendous opportunities for us and the rest of the market to explore.”