INSIGHT: Alfred Yoakim, Head of Nestlé’s System Technology Centre
By Alfred Yoakim
Wouldn’t it be useful, if when you put a frozen meal in to bake, the oven recognised the ingredients and adjusted the temperature and time to cook it to perfection?
Or if when you put your clothes in to wash, the machine identified the fabrics and the weight of the load and calculated precisely how much water and detergent to use?
It sounds futuristic, but this level of interaction between product and machine is something we’re already achieving with our beverage systems.
When I say ‘system’, I’m talking about something that combines products, software and hardware to complete an everyday task effectively.
Whether you’re baking, doing laundry, or making a coffee, a system should help to make your life simpler.
For example, when you put a coffee capsule into the new Nespresso VertuoLine system, it does everything for you.
Using barcode technology, the machine senses the capsule size, recognises the coffee blend, and adjusts the temperature and extraction parameters accordingly.
Why does this matter? Today, consumers want greater accuracy.
The more precisely you can change the behaviour of a machine according to the product inside it, the more accurate the result.
People are not only looking for easier-to-use products, they also want fresher, better-quality ingredients, specifically adapted to their needs and preferences.
Looking further ahead, we will want to understand in greater detail the impact on our bodies of what we consume.
It’s the kind of knowledge that one day, a system could provide.
But although systems are designed to make things easier, they require a complex mix of expertise to develop.
That’s why we created our facility in Switzerland dedicated to systems technology, to maximise more than 25 years of experience we’ve built in this area.
It brings together talented people from across our business to come up with ideas to refine our existing systems, as well as developing entirely new ones.
It’s only through this kind of collaboration that ideas such as Nespresso VertuoLine can be realised.
The system - designed to meet the tastes of North American coffee drinkers - is the result of more than seven years of research and development.
That may seem like a long time. After all, it’s hardly a secret that Americans prefer a longer cup of coffee to Europeans.
But the challenge was not to develop a machine that could create a long coffee; it was to develop one that could make a long cup of comparable quality.
We devised a way for the system to rotate the coffee capsule 7,000 times a minute, to extract every drop of flavour.
Thanks to this unique ‘centrifusion’ technology, VertuoLine is now the only system on the market to make long coffees with ‘crema’, the naturally-formed foam of coffee and air that is the signature of a quality espresso.
While it’s true that much of Nestlé’s systems development has focused on beverage machines, such as Nescafé Dolce Gusto and Special.T, we are exploring other opportunities.
We believe there’s huge potential to create systems adapted to a wide variety of different needs and cultures.
Coming up with the idea is not the most difficult thing. The real trick is to balance what is technically possible with what will genuinely be appreciated by consumers.
If you move too early into an area people aren’t used to, or before you’ve mastered it, you risk killing an idea before it has a chance to take off.
In the early ‘90s we thought about connecting Nespresso machines to the Internet, but we would have needed to install them with hard disks and ISDN cables.
They would have been too heavy and too expensive.
We had to ask ourselves: will this really benefit consumers? The answer was no. The idea was there, but the technology and the market were not ready.
More than a decade later, the time was right. In 2012, Nespresso included modems in its Aguila and Zenius machines for out-of-home customers.
These systems can transmit data via wifi about their performance to Nespresso Customer Relationship Centres, to let them know when they need servicing.
It allows Nespresso to address any maintenance issues quickly and efficiently, saving its business customers time and money.
Ultimately, this shows that the goal of a great system is not to set trends just for the sake of it.
It should be to make life easier and more enjoyable, by taking an everyday experience and turning it into an exceptional one.
Alfred Yoakim is Head of Nestlé’s System Technology Centre
Insight is where you can read diverse perspectives of people in our company. If you would like to join the discussion, please visit our corporate Facebook Page