Hi my name is Bob Midyette, and I am the Director of Fleet Beverage Operations for Royal Caribbean International and our wonderful luxury line, Azamara Club Cruises. Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time to witness evolution leap forward, skipping what should be its next logical iteration. Here is an example of that.
Three years ago, I was invited to visit Coca-Cola’s corporate office to explore our future efforts together. My gracious hosts were escorting me to various behind the scenes and highly restricted areas, like the famous Coke boardroom (I did not sit in Warren Buffets chair, but I did think about it) and the time capsule-like persevered office of Robert Woodruff President from 1923-54, where all the items in his office, or on his desk, are exactly where he left them.
Up to this point it was a surreal experience and the tour continued to a few more unique areas. However the best was saved for last, and just after lunch I was escorted to the Coca-Cola Innovation Lab for the final series of meetings. This hidden and tightly secured laboratory is a combination of the design lab at Apple and Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, (minus the peculiarities of the movie host). I found myself immersed in a world of futuristic flavors, packaging, machines, and technology. I worked very hard to keep my hands in my pockets and not lick the wallpaper, ever mindful of those naughty children from the movies. Eventually I was led into a separate, purposely non-descript room, further sequestered from all of the other innovations. This was where I saw it, and for the remaining day and a half of my meetings with Coca-Cola, pretty much all I could think of. What was it that captured my attention so completely? It was not the fizzy lifting drinks, although cool, they are still not quite perfected.
It was a machine, designed by Ferrari, with the interface of an iPad (remember this was before the iPad even existed) and 125 flavors of various Coke products, all in a footprint smaller than the standard vending machine.
It was beyond sexy, it was über cool. Using medical micro dosing technology, flavor cartridges just slightly larger than those of the standard ink jet printer opened a world of flavors never available before (Orange Coke, anyone? or Peach Fanta Zero?). It was like going from an IBM series 700 mainframe to an iPhone 4, skipping everything in-between. After a series of conversations, Coca-Cola agreed to work with us on being the first cruise line to deploy the Freestyle machine.
From that point forward, Coca-Cola and Royal Caribbean began the effort to integrate the changes needed for the machines to work onboard our ships, which included a few health code modifications for a marine environment as well as the addition of RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) to use with our souvenir soda cups. The RFID cups allow guests to serve themselves for the period of their voyage and automatically expire after their voyage.
I am pleased to finally say that in early June, our multi-year efforts came to fruition. We completed the first installation of Coca-Cola Freestyle on Majesty of the Seas, with several other ships (all U.S. based) scheduled this year. We expect the deployment to continue well into 2013. As far as the Coca-Cola Innovation Lab, I have not been invited back since my initial visit, but if I do, I hope to find something else astounding to bring to the Fleet…and I’m not ruling out the fizzy lifting drinks either, by then they just might have it perfected.