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Heritage coffee business embraces digital innovation

Posted April 4, 2013

Tens of thousands of coffee bags at a Lancaster business now carry digital tags so customers can scan the packaging and learn the story behind the product. J.Atkinson and Co. has been roasting and supplying coffee in the city since 1837 but the owners wanted to bring digital innovation to the company.

Owner Ian Steel said: “Each type of coffee bean has an amazing story behind it, the story of the grower and what distinguishes the taste. Now customers can access this by scanning the packaging with their mobile phone. If you scrape the surface, there is a whole digital world underneath. “I want people to choose the variety of bean in the same way they choose wine and this means we can give them a lot more information about what’s available.”

The QR codes on the packaging can also be used to order more products from the business, raising awareness of the e-commerce site and relieving pressure on busy staff.

The innovation is the brainchild of Lancaster University Science and Technology PhD student Liz Edwards from HighWire, a doctoral training centre centred on innovation through computer science, management and design. In the first three years of operation HighWire has run over 60 partnership projects with businesses, the health sector, schools, public organisations and other societal groups, to drive radical change in business and society through developing digital innovations.

Liz said: “What makes Atkinson special is their connection to their growers in different countries and I wanted to bring that out and allow them to tell their story of how the coffee and tea is produced.”

The business includes a Tea and Coffee Heritage and Innovation Centre where RFID tags attached to objects can be scanned to tell stories about a Victorian tea caddy. QR codes in tea cards will enable the card to be swiped to order coffee beans, sign up for events, download coffee information and give feedback.

Liz said: “An aim of this innovation is to encourage customers to learn about and explores a greater range of what is on offer. This innovation should stimulate customers to think about coffees in relation to each other and in relation to geographic regions. It should prompt customers to questions tastes and to develop their palette.”

HighWire projects are just one way local businesses like J. Atkinson and Co. can tap into the skills and knowledge of Lancaster University to research and develop new ideas.

Source: Lancaster University

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