Capitalizing on the fro-yo craze, this self-serve machine dispenses the sweet treat through use of a robotic arm.
Yes, you have heard of frozen yogurt—but have you been served the cool treat by a robot? This is exactly what Allan Jones, CEO of Robofusion in Charleston SC, is looking to achieve with a frozen yogurt kiosk that is set to revolutionize the already thriving industry.
According to market research firm Mintel, sales of frozen yogurt registered a 74% increase between 2011-2013 and the numbers continue to look bright with many franchise concepts getting in on the action. With the growing popularity of vending concepts, the Robofusion kiosk marries two popular trends—frozen yogurt and self-serve together.
The Robofusion kiosks dispense yogurt and ice cream in two sizes by using a touch screen for selections. Customers can pay using a credit card or cash for an RFID card that is inserted into the machine. On one version of the kiosk they can then choose a robot “character”—which will in turn determine the music and motions the customers are entertained with. The kiosk’s specialty is a “five-layered” treat with customers picking from a variety of toppings and yogurts for each layer. Popular flavors include vanilla and chocolate, and toppings can range from Reese’s pieces and M&Ms to chocolate-covered sunflower seeds.
Once the selection is made, a robotic arm fills the cup, adds toppings and delivers the treats to the customer through a revolving platform. Spoons come from a covered dispenser on the outside.
The genesis for the machines came from a simple idea Jones had in 2007 that frozen yogurt (or ice cream) could be delivered in a much more economical, clean and fun way.
Two kiosk designs offer two flavors that can be bought separately or swirled together, with a choice of six toppings. The difference between the two is that one of them offers a video screen to keep customers entertained while the robotic dispenser prepares the yogurt. A third kiosk design offers four flavors with 10 toppings.
According to Jones, the company can set up a kiosk at a retail location in about an hour. Kiosks measure about the size of a walk-in refrigerator and use about a tenth of the energy of an entire frozen yogurt store. Normal set-up cost is around $65,000.
“The kiosks, depending on how they are set up, will do between 65 and 100 turns before refilling is necessary,” Jones says. “We are developing technology that will allow for more like 150 turns before refilling.” The machines are serviced once a day. If the kiosks break down for any reason, the company has a service team and works with partner companies to provide fast response.
At this time there are 15 kiosks operating in the United States and approximately 20 in other countries. The company currently offers only yogurt machines in the U.S., while ice cream kiosks are available overseas. Plans are to expand globally, including in locations such as schools and hospitals. Robofusion has recently partnered with one of the world’s largest retailers to begin placing kiosks within their stores in Europe. Non-company-owned locations pay a percentage of sales each month for support and software licensing—in addition to the cost of the machines.
“The demand, both in the USA and globally is amazing,” Jones says. “The company is poised for very high growth over the next many years.”