There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Even college students seeking to stretch those meal plans know that. But universities, and other organizations, encounter cost issues when “free beverage refills” are interpreted as a free-for-all Coke festival. This fall, students and faculty at the University of Southern Indiana were introduced to the ValidFill Solution system at restaurants in the university center. This is a self-serve beverage dispensing system using RFID technology to measure the amount of beverage dispensed into each purchased cup. The technology gives students one refill within 90 minutes, but they must wait 10 minutes before getting a refill.
The university hopes this new system will save money. Steve Bridges, assistant vice president for finance and administration and assistant treasurer for the university, says it already has. Soft drink prices have increased by 10 cents over last year largely because of free, unmonitored refills. The RFID technology cost the university roughly $39,000, and USI expects to be able to recoup the costs of that expense in nine to 12 months.
Each small, sticker-like “chip” placed on the bottom of each cup costs the university about 15 cents. The dispenser must recognize the chip before it dispenses the beverage.
“The system keeps track of a cup moving to different flavors and how much of each flavor is dispensed,” says Chris Briggs, general manager of the campus food service, Sodexo. ValidFill includes an advanced reporting system, allowing the university to track customer traffic, refill sales, and product movement. This January, Sodexo looks to introduce a refill mug, a re-usable cup that can be purchased for $5.99. Customers can add three refills to the cup at any time and at any machine for a total of $1.79. This will allow for flexibility among students or other customers who want specific amounts of refills.
“As an institution that teaches, having cutting-edge technology makes sense,” Bridges says. Over time, university customers will become more accustomed to the ValidFill technology, and it in turn will continue to benefit both Sodexo and the university.
For more information about the USI’s new drink technology, contact Sodexo at 812-464-1859 or visit www.validfill.com.