Interview with Sam Geissbühler, Product Manager at Schaerer AG
A real eye-catcher
New design, new user interface, new equipment options — the recently launched Schaerer Coffee Soul with the "Select" concept is the new version of the Schaerer Coffee Soul successfully launched in 2017. In this interview, Product Manager Sam Geissbühler gives us a behind-the-scenes look of the development process.
When did development start on the Schaerer Coffee Soul, the predecessor of the newly-launched Schaerer Coffee Soul with the "Select" concept?
We started the project back in 2012. The goal was to develop a successor to the Schaerer Coffee Art, which had been successfully established on the market for many years, and to eventually replace it with this model. At centre stage was a concept for a uniform machine platform. It was meant to provide everything from the outset so that different models for three performance levels could be developed on this foundation. The "Basic" variant, as the name suggests, was intended as a standard model. The "Large" version was aimed at customers with higher beverage demands of over 250 cups per day. Finally, the "High-End" model was designed to be highly automated and with the ability to configure itself independently. Such ideas show how much thought was already being put into the future at that time — even if it was not yet possible to implement some features.
In 2015, the "Basic" version of the Schaerer Coffee Soul was presented to the public for the first time at the HOST in Milan. Since we decided — not least due to extensive customer feedback — to integrate the "Best Foam" technology as well, it still took about one and a half years until the actual market launch in March 2017.
How did the post-launch period go? Were all expectations of the new machine met?
After the launch, the machine was very successful, especially in the Asian markets. Some of our key customers in this region ordered large quantities right away, and by the end of 2019, we had already sold around 20,000 models. For a fully-automated machine that had been available for less than three years at that point, this is an excellent figure. But this did not surprise us, as the advantages of the Schaerer Coffee Soul are clear: It is more compact than the Schaerer Coffee Art, offers comparable performance, and even costs less. However, as we had not yet fully utilised the potential of the machine, especially in regional sales, we collected a lot of feedback from customers and partners. One of the most frequent responses was the desire for more customisation options to make the machines more individualised with little financial outlay. In addition, feedback showed that the touch screen should be reworked — the user interface, much like the machine itself, was very dark. While this was perceived as elegant by some of our customers, many wanted something more colourful.
This feedback from the market prompted us to continue to make extensive changes to the Schaerer Coffee Soul just three years after its market launch. We call these advancements rather than redevelopment, as the platform mentioned earlier has proven itself in intensive field use over the past years and thus continues to be the heart of the machine. However, we have completely redesigned the Schaerer Coffee Soul in terms of the appearance, display, and technical and visual customisation options.
What was the concept behind the redesign?
It was important to us that the new Schaerer Coffee Soul stand out and really catch the customer’s eye, so to speak. We were inspired in particular by the requirements in the self-service sector. At petrol stations or convenience stores, the machines are often placed between full, colourful shelves and garish signs — a striking design is important for it to be noticed at all. This is why we opted for an asymmetrical design. Everything, from the lighting to the off-centred display to the distinctive design elements, fits into this concept. The design elements also stand out with their rich colours. While the parts are currently available in red for the Schaerer Coffee Soul 10, they shine in a classic copper look for the Schaerer Coffee Soul 12. Next year, optional variants in pastel green, brown and black will also be available. Customers can then tailor their machines to best fit the ambience of their stores. When it comes to the user interface, we also decided on a brighter redesign.
With the LED lighting elements, we were also able to implement another design idea that had been on our minds for a long time. As early as in 2004, we experimented with a lighting concept and an individualised coloured housing for the Schaerer Coffee Celebration. The machine was clearly ahead of its time in that respect. The idea came up again in the development process of the original Schaerer Coffee Soul, but was not pursued at that time for cost reasons. However, customer feedback made it clear that great demand exists and increasingly economical production processes have caused the price of LEDs to drop rapidly in recent years. When the machine was redesigned, lighting elements finally became a must.
Can customers combine the different colours and machine models however they want?
Yes, this is the exact idea behind our "Mix & Match" principle. The slogan "Mix your options & Match your style" stands for the fact that customers have great freedom when adapting the exterior to fit their own ideas. In addition to the design elements, this really affects the so-called "splash zone" at the outlet, which is available in different materials, and the display, which is offered in two different sizes. However, whether a customer chooses the 10.4-inch or the 12.1-inch screen does not only depend on visual preferences. The larger version is clearly aimed at self-service areas. In such areas, it is important to present the user interface in a clearly recognisable way and, if necessary, to play videos. If, on the other hand, the machine is operated by trained staff, this is not necessary — the smaller, non-video screen is sufficient.
The "Mix & Match" principle also allows for technical flexibility with "Mix your Options". What has changed here with the new Schaerer Coffee Soul compared to the previous model?
Even the very first Schaerer Coffee Soul offered customers many technical customisation options. Among others, the number of bean hoppers was variable, and it was possible to integrate the "Hot & Cold" system for cold coffee specialities. All of this is of course still possible. However, thanks to the "Select" concept, the new Schaerer Coffee Soul comes with additional options. For example, an optional third grinder and the innovative "Twin Milk" technology now make it possible to offer an even wider range of beverages. In addition — and this is really what makes this concept so unique — the technical equipment and the design can be combined independently of each other. Another new feature is the Touchless Outlet (automatic adjustable outlet). This guarantees that the beverage ends up in the cup, mug or glass without splashing and with maximum hygiene.
You just mentioned the "Twin Milk" technology. What is it all about?
Thanks to the "Twin Milk" technology, coffee specialities with two different types of milk can be offered in one machine. The corresponding beverages are simply stored in the machine software and prepared fully automatically using the touch display. Being able to offer this option is important to us in two ways: On the one hand, in some markets, such as Australia, there is high demand for reduced-fat milk as well as for whole milk. Globally, the trend towards plant-based milk alternatives is strong — such products do not pose any problems for our milk system, but we recommend certain manufacturers for optimal results. Also: With other equipment technologies, it is also interesting for us to see that they are particularly successful in certain markets and industries. The "Hot & Cold" technology is in great demand in Asia, for example, where cold coffee specialities are very popular. But we are sure that this trend will also pick up in Europe. In the future, more technical equipment options will be added to the new Schaerer Coffee Soul, so we can look forward to that. This year, for example, a module for mobile payment will be available that will allow the integration of various payment providers.
The user interface was mentioned earlier: What specific changes have been made here? Are these only visual, or are they also functional?
As I mentioned earlier, the look was really important to us. Our old user interface was very dark, which is common in the industry. We wanted to set ourselves apart with bright, colourful elements. The new display gives us much more room to manoeuvre with its higher resolution, brilliant colours and the option of playing videos. Some changes have also been made to the software. Integrating new graphics is easier than ever before, and visual adjustments can be implemented very efficiently. This also allows us to provide customers with an individualised user interface in an uncomplicated and inexpensive way for the first time. At our last trade fair appearance, where we presented the new user interface, we received very positive feedback.
In addition to the visuals, we had a clear focus when it came to user guidance: It had to be based on the three common areas of application of "classic self-service", "frequent users" and "service by staff". In guest mode, even a customer using the machine for the first time must be able to operate it right away. When operating the touch screen, customers are guided step-by-step through the composition of their desired beverages. The selection, of course, depends on the machine equipment. In addition, customers can be informed directly about specific products or promotions via image and video overlays. We have created a favourite mode for machines that are always used by the same people - in office kitchens, for example. In this mode, favourite individualised beverages can be stored and quickly called up. After selection, adjustments can be made without complications. So everyone gets exactly what they want quickly and easily. Lastly, a dedicated staff mode is designed for maximum efficiency when operated by trained staff. Pre-set beverages can be varied easily and prepared immediately. An internal waiting list also allows several orders to be saved, meaning beverages can be dispensed almost without interruption. Even with a large number of guests, everyone gets their coffee quickly.
Can you estimate what the most popular configurations of the new Schaerer Coffee Soul will be?
We really have to distinguish between different aspects here. When it comes to the two basic models, the Schaerer Coffee Soul 10 and 12, you can assume a one-third to two-thirds split. Since petrol stations and convenience stores are becoming increasingly important for us and the demand for self-service machines is rising, the variant with a 12.1-inch display will certainly be in greater demand. However, this machine costs more, which could of course lead customers to purchase the smaller version if certain market developments occur. In terms of quality and technology, they don't have to make any compromises.
In terms of design and technical equipment, forecasts are much more difficult. In terms of colour, we are already getting very good feedback for the black trim elements, which will be launched soon. Even though many customers are very interested in the colourful options, the simple elegance of black still seems to be very popular. The extent to which certain equipment options are in demand varies by region and industry. "Hot & Cold", as already mentioned, is mainly in demand in Asia, although Europe is slowly following suit. "Twin Milk" is popular almost everywhere; companies from all over the world are interested. In order to make the technology more attractive to customers with a high volume of guests, this year we will also be offering a larger cooler that can hold ten litres of each of the two types of milk. Lastly, a machine with three grinders is aimed primarily at customers who want to offer their guests something special. Fancy single-origin coffees would be the perfect thing here. In general, all equipment options of the Schaerer Coffee Soul Select are aimed at offering more beverage variety for guests with the highest level of quality.