Three students from Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands came up with a beer machine one evening when they were having a bit of a laugh. It’s a vending machine that taps a lot of perfect beers very quickly. Ideal for football matches and festivals, for example. “What started as a joke is now becoming a serious business,” says Atot Müller, one of the founders of Bierport.
You are at a festival and feel like having a cold beer. But at the bar, you see crowds of people queuing up to place their orders. After 15 minutes, you have a beer, or rather a plastic cup with mostly foam. There has got to be a better way, the founders of Bierport thought. Their ideal scenario: You walk up to the Bierport vending machine and enter the number of beers you want on a display. Then you scan your ID card and pay contactless. The machine gets to work putting a tray of perfectly tapped beers in front of you. Within seven seconds you have your drink and you can go back to partying.
Their ideal scenario is bound to appeal to plenty of festival-goers and festival organizers. It started as a wild idea, but there was a clear vision behind it right from the start. “The equipment has to be manufacturable. Innovations are often conceived conceptually, and people only start looking at whether they’re feasible later on. During the development process, we already looked at whether we could actually make the product. To do so, we made use of existing technologies. We then combined these to achieve the best result,” says co-founder Jan Bots.
“We took our first design, a wooden model, to the PSV football club about a year ago,” says Müller. “They were interested right away, despite the corona crisis.” There is now a working model that is almost ready for production on a larger scale. The men have knocked on the doors of large breweries with this, and these beer giants have also responded enthusiastically. Bierport is now a real company and the students have even managed to attract commercial expertise to get their plans off the ground.
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People spread out more
There are no events where the beer machine could be used for the time being due to corona. That does not alter the fact that there may well be a great demand for the machine in the future. “PSV let us know that they see even more of a future for our product in view of the current circumstances. They hope that the machine can be used when more football matches with audiences can be played again,” says co-founder Davey Lindhout. ” This also means that people would spread out more evenly across a room,” he points out.
Breweries are also keen on the Beierport machine. “Breweries are looking for ways to handle peak demand at festivals and events,” Lindhout explains. “But you can’t put an unlimited number of bars on a festival site or in a stadium, so that’s a tricky issue.” A beer machine would be a godsend. “It doesn’t matter where the machine is. We lay the pipes and the machine can operate,” he says. Moreover, Lindhout thinks that the atmosphere at festivals and events will improve if people do not have to wait as long for a drink. “Maybe visitors will drink more as a result, after all, they won’t have to stand in line.”
Unique selling point
The first prototypes work, and now it’s a matter of waiting until they can be tested. This may take some time because of the corona pandemic. “In the meantime, we’re maintaining good contacts with the breweries,” says Lindhout. “We hope to enter into a partnership with them in the future. They can then include Bierport’s machines in their range and offer them to festival and event organisers. That will give them an extra unique selling point.”
Once that time comes, Bierport has already found a company in the region that will manufacture the machines on a large scale. “Large companies, such as breweries, can then buy a number of machines. In addition, we are also looking at the opportunities for renting them out,” he says.
It might be interesting for proprietors that they don’t have to employ as much staff. However, the Bierport machines cannot work without staff. Just like the self-service checkout in the supermarket, a few people need to be on hand to keep an eye on things. For example, they have to change the kegs and refill the receptacles with cups.
The employees also have to keep an eye on whether people are really scanning their own ID card. “In theory, someone could take someone else’s ID card. So that has to be closely monitored,” Lindhout goes on to say. He expects that this can be solved in the future with a QR code. “You scan the code with your phone and can then pay directly via the mobile banking app. Your date of birth is, of course, also linked to your bank details.”
But will that be the end of the bartender then? “No. People who refill products and change kegs will take over some of the bartender’s tasks. You can still have a chat with them. They also keep an eye on things”, he says. In addition, Lindhout sees the Bierport machines mainly as an addition to the original bars. “If a father goes to a football match with his son, he can still easily order a coke at the bar. The large crowd that comes for the beer is then served by the vending machines.”
Wine and soft drinks
The guys from Bierport hope to carry out the first tests immediately after the lockdown. “We have got to get through the crisis and be there when things start up again,” says Lindhout. In the meantime, they are working hard to optimise their equipment.
They believe there is still plenty of room for this. “We would think it would be cool to serve not just beer but other drinks this way in the future,” he adds. “Then a tray with one wine, two soft drinks and three beers would simply come out of the machine.” Thanks to the QR code, the system remembers your order and can prepare it immediately if you ask for it. Lindhout: “That adds to a great festival experience, don’t you think?”
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