Photo: Reis & Irvy

We’ve seen robots in grocery stores before restocking shelves and packing products — but now, robots will be used for perhaps their most important task yet: dispensing frozen yogurt.

Billed as “the world’s first robotic frozen yogurt vending kiosk,” Reis & Irvy launched in 2016 as a subsidiary franchise concept of Generation NEXT Franchise Brands. Starting this spring, they will finally begin deploying their frozen yogurt vending robots to select grocery retailers in 17 U.S. states. Their brightly-colored machines dispense froyo (or gelato, ice cream, or sorbet) within 60 seconds. Customers can choose between 7 flavors and add up to 6 toppings.

Compared to your average strip-mall frozen yogurt store, the Reis & Irvy robot has a pretty limited selection. You can’t spend 10 minutes sampling every one of the sometimes dozens of flavors available, nor can you customize your amounts of froyo or pile on the toppings. But the robotic machines do offer a few things that traditional froyo stores don’t. First of all, there’s none of the guessing or price shock that goes into paying for your yogurt creation, which is often weight-based. With Reis & Irvy’s machines, all you have to do is choose your size, flavor, and toppings, and a robotic arm will dispense it exactly —no surprisingly high price thanks to all those gummy bears you added on.

The main selling point of the froyo robots, however, is convenience. Reis & Irvy froyo vending operations will be franchised to retail areas which already get a lot of food traffic, like grocery stores. Which won’t be too hard to do, since their machines only take up 15 square feet of space.

By installing their froyo robots in retail stores, parent company Generation Next Franchise Brand is hoping to drive impulse snack purchases. So instead of grabbing a guilty pleasure packet of Skittles from the tempting display as you’re in line to check out, you might decide to get a froyo on your way out of the store. After all, it only takes 60 seconds.

Reis & Irvy is also hoping to piggyback off of froyo’s recent popularity. The frozen yogurt market is projected to grow at 20% CAGR; a rise which is driven in large part by the well-publicized health benefits of probiotics. Of course, if you top your low-fat frozen yogurt with mountains of M&M’s, it won’t be much of a step up from a processed packet of junk candy. But consumers perceive froyo as a healthy snack, and by making it convenient and quick, Reis & Irvy hopes to draw in people who wouldn’t go out of their way to stop at a frozen yogurt store.

The machines are an easy way for grocery stores and to add new revenue stream which can be operated 24/7, without the overhead and expenses that come with stand-alone stores. We’ve seen similar food automation in coffee shops with Cafe-X and fast food with Eatsa, but Reis & Irvy ups the ante by integrating it into pre-established retail spaces. By doing this, they hope to offer customers an extra perk which can help keep them shopping longer encourage store loyalty. With the looming threat of Amazon and other grocery ecommerce companies, brick-and-mortar supermarkets need all the appeal they can muster.

As part of the initial rollout, the company anticipates shipping approximately 185 units in May and 250 units in June. Their machines will feature frozen yogurt “consumables” exclusively from Dannon, and will take card, cash, Apple pay, Google wallet, and even some forms of cryptocurrency. Just in case you wanted to pay for your vanilla-chocolate swirl in Bitcoin.

I’m not sure if Reis & Irvy’s robot will necessarily disrupt the froyo industry, since people will probably still hit up stand-alone frozen yogurt stores to take advantage of their variety and DIY appeal. However, I do think they have a chance to disrupt online grocery delivery services like Instacart. Or at least give supermarkets a little firepower (er, yogurtpower?) to fight back.

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