'Getting the Right Sample to the Right Customer'

Kraft unveiling vending device that can tell adults from children

NORTHFIELD, Ill. -- Kraft Foods, the nation's biggest foodmaker, will roll out in Chicago a device that dispenses its Temptations dessert by Jell-O, but only to the product's target market: grownups. The machine, according to a USA Today report, was developed by Intel, and it can detect facial age with a special camera that scans your face and determines if the customer is an adult or a kid. If the machine detects a child, it shuts down and asks the child to step away. If it detects an adult, the sample can be dispensed.

"This is 'wow'," Steven Keith Platt, director of the Platt Retail Institute, a research and consulting firm specializing in consumer experience, told the newspaper. "I'll now have the ability to interact with a cool device that dispenses a unique product versus walking up to some old lady with a white apron on."

But Seth Godin, a prominent marketing blogger and author, said it's lame. "It's a goofy gimmick, not a useful innovation," he told the paper.

In either case, it certainly won't be the last of its techy breed, said the report. The food and beverage industry alone spends upward of $1 billion annually on product sampling. In the end, it's all about getting the right sample in the right person's hands--or mouth.

For Kraft, this is no small matter. The company owns at least a dozen billion-dollar brands, including Nabisco, Oscar Mayer and Cadbury. Sampling is a hugely effective, but often costly, way of getting folks to try a new product.

"It has a big gee-whiz factor," Ed Kaczmarek, Northfield, Ill.-based Kraft's director of innovation and consumer experiences, told USA Today. "This is intelligent marketing. We're making certain we get the right sample to the right consumer."

The machine does not capture individual photos or videos. It's a detection device that analyzes, compares and stores metrics. When it looks at a face, it might compare the distance between the eyes or ears to help determine the customer's age.

Intel, meanwhile, is also working on getting the device to measure one other thing, Jose Avalos, Intel's retail sector worldwide director, told the paper. "We want to see if a person is smiling after they receive their sample."