As a way to stay ahead in a market that is becoming increasingly crowded, we noticed with interest that Keurig, the leading brand in single-serving coffee systems, continues its drive to innovate. The new Keurig machine have embedded RFID (radio frequency identification device) technology that allows customers to tweak the size, strength and optimal temperature of their preferred cup of coffee or tea. Keurig appears to recognize that all coffee drinkers have particular tastes and this new control-your-cup strategy is sure to please the serious caffeine lover. Originally engineered for professional services firms where coffee consumption is high and there is little uniformity in tastes, the system is now available for the home brewing market.
The RFID tag was the brainchild of Mario Cardullo who patented the technology in 1973. Originally adopted by mass distribution firms like Walmart to track inventory as it moved through the supply change, Keurig is using this smart technology to encode a recipe that is read by the system to identify the optimal settings that will delight the tastes of coffee and tea aficionados.
We see a lesson here about understanding your customers and where they are headed. Thirty years ago, just as Starbucks was opening its first location, a cup of coffee was a cup of coffee and you scooped it from a tin to drip through your coffee maker. Today, coffee and tea are more like fine wines with infinite varieties that come from specific vineyards (locations). Who knows we may soon be specifying the source and year our favorite coffee beans were grown, completing the cycle of mass customization in the coffee industry!
A footnote: Keurig was acquired by Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc., in 2006 and the decision to keep it a separate subsidiary with its own management team is surely a key to its continued innovation track record.