So, the question…why?
For us it is simple. We want to be the people in the room that wine producers can point to and say, those guys…they helped me stand up to the global issues we traditionally sweep under the rug. Plus, each bottle of wine has a unique story to tell and we want to give wineries the ability to tell it.
We (Cellr) set out to solve a very different problem in the wine industry.
That was inventory management in hospitality. We all know how broken stock control is when you have to manually count something every month, put it in a spreadsheet, then reconcile it against POS…then report to the business how the wine program is going…and then figure out what you need to buy next!
All this manual, repetitive time wasted on admin tasks, after you train for years to become a Sommelier. This seemed crazy to us, so we built a platform using off the shelf hardware and some kick arse, bespoke software that took stock-takes in restaurants, hotels and wine bars from days to effectively real-time. But the industry said until it integrated with a POS (archaic, black box systems mostly that don’t play with any other software) it is too hard to manage both systems. Plus, the additional step of adding an RFID tag (even though it only took seconds per case) was another roadblock for us.
This is when we started to investigate how we could get our technology up the chain. We wanted to see if we could get the tags embedded into the production process, or if the distributors would add them for us so the hospitality crew didn’t have to. During this phase, and a deep dive into the engineering behind the bottling process we discovered this vein of counterfeit wine around the world. How many bottles??? I vocalised so many times to myself during the research…circa 20% of the world’s wine is considered to be fake. So, with numbers even higher throughout Asia we pivoted the company in November 2018 to focus wholly and solely on engineering the world’s best anti-counterfeit product for wineries.
So, we started testing off the shelf tags…how easy is this! Sadly, none of them actually worked within bottling due to the fact that the RFID world has another major issue…metal and fluid. These two elements are the natural enemy of radio frequency. We’d met our first real challenge.
“Seek, you shall find” (and I thought Yoda said that). We then set our sights on learning everything we could about radio frequency and why it is seen to be the world’s best solution for anti-counterfeit, track & trace and Direct to Consumer (DTC) marketing. For starters, the technology isn’t copy-able like the existing solutions in the wine industry. QR codes, glass etching, embossing bottles, invisible ink (like my daughters secret diary) etc…all these things that claim to be a solution, yet the counterfeit, or fake wine numbers are growing at around 7% per annum.
After learning all about frequency ranges, the dangers of operating in the wrong ranges (potentially knocking out Vodafone base stations in Australia etc) and limitations, we decided we would need to design and develop our own new tag specifically for wine. The parameters…well, it had to be;
- covert (not just another copyable sticker for the outside of a bottle or in a label)
- Tamper-proof (a binary state so we know when the bottle has been opened)
- robust enough to handle the rigours of not only capsule manufacturing, but also the bottling line
- read at speed on a bottling line (~45,000 per hour)
- uniquely identifiable (not just a batch like a barcode / QR Code)
- hands-free for producers
- embedded into the existing capsules made today
- …and CHEAP.
We set off to design the first iteration of a PolyLaminate capsule based on conversations with wineries about the prolific use of cork around the world and especially into China. That said, we haven’t lost sight of the screw cap, champagne hood and the plethora of other capsules used around the world today.
Fast forward 11 months and we took an idea and a heap of research from theory to reality as we rolled out the first batch of prototypes. We employed a leading electrical engineer to produce the connected packaging foundation. Our engineer has worked on amazing projects like the cochlear ear implant, a regenerative braking system for trucks and he designed and built the first ever sub-cutaneous (injectable) RFID device for cattle (30 years ago). Needless to say, his experience was in-line with our “specialists, not generalists” mantra.
Next step, how can we make this thing look and feel like a normal capsule. Sorry Colin, but the resin potted tops couldn’t cut it on top of the world’s finest wines ;).
This leads us to the now. We have created a new polylaminate capsule that is capable of amazing things. We are rolling out our first batch of pilot projects with producers in due course (as COVID-19 bans lift). Our software layers encapsulate a desktop admin panel, plus native Android and Apple apps. This means you as the producer have access to unprecedented data whilst the consumer has a lovely experience natively via their mobile phone.
These capsules once added to your production run pair to our readers on your bottling line so we can create digital “birth certificates” automatically (at speed). These birth records form the foundation of data that allows our digital platform to authenticate wines in the wild using the NFC element of our lids.
Our capsules enable wine producers to control all aspects of their brand. We can track wines (consignments or single bottles) from production, throughout the supply chain, and all the way to the consumer. Yes, claims a fair few make…but we do it differently. We do it with the wine producer in mind…we have your back every step of the way.
That is via handsfree tools that activate and unlock all the coolest features, through to the hardcore engineering we have done to ensure you don’t have to change anything you do in your process. We simply enable each and every bottle you make to become an integrated piece of your DTC marketing puzzle, or brand protection strategy. We don’t make the tech, then expect you to figure out how to make it sing for your company.
If you want to be a part of the First Press Project, head on over to this page to find out more.