Looking Back At A Crazy Year, With Hope For A Happy 2018

by Kevin Daw
Posted On: 12/29/2017

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First, I apologize for having to be absent from this year's CT&W Show in Texas. Unforeseen issues and events forced my hand and left me unable to attend. I've heard it was a great event, and I was glad to see that one of the folks I wrote about as deserving of Hall of Fame status, Ken Shea, was indeed inducted at the show. Congrats Ken!

What a crazy year this turned out to be. Coffee, for its part, was rather tame. We saw a slow softening of the market throughout the year, and although we have rebounded from the yearly lows, we have held a relatively tight range. There is still a decent-sized Brazilian crop to look forward to, and barring any unforeseen macro issues, there is no apparent reason to believe that the coffee market will not remain on the calmer side of historical norms.

Studies continue to come out in favor of coffee as a healthy beverage even as we face the ongoing acrylamide concern. We have certainly not seen the end of that battle, and I think it is very likely that studies will continue to roll out on both sides of the good-for-you/bad-for-you ledger.

Science has entered a new era where computing power and more precise measurement capabilities allow researchers to look far deeper into the makeup of everything and its interactions with everything else. It is very easy to say X causes this, and Y is good for that, but until we have a full understanding of ourselves and our environment, we will continue to be forced into educated guesses as to what and how much will be considered a safe level of anything. The old adage, "everything is OK in moderation" will likely remain sage advice for some time to come.

Outside of coffee itself, but of considerable import to our industry, this year saw a large increase in noise on many fronts.

Bitcoin/cryptocurrency/blockchain: Money: and its liquidity, flow and safekeeping will change dramatically going forward. The impact on vending seems obvious, with cashless becoming more the norm than the exception today, and there will be savings in banking that result from widespread adoption of this technology, as well as greater liquidity and ease in capital as an unlimited amount of lenders will be able to vie for your next lease.

In a recent conversation with my company's banker, he expressed a concern over "blockchain." He surprised me with his view of how much it might mean to the future of banking as we know it.

Driverless technology: Though still a long way from being the norm, the promise of driverless technology can represent a huge boon to our industry. The most obvious benefit, of course, should be in the form of insurance savings as the risk of accidents, and consequent liability, is reduced dramatically. Beyond this – and at this point one can only conjecture – the ability to hire otherwise qualified individuals with bad driving records will suddenly not be impacted by how much they might affect the bottom line. This will widen the hiring pool.

I'm going to doubt that seat belts, which were not even of much concern in my youth, will become a non-item in the future, although it is nice to dream of a day when route staff can be handling paperwork and organizing deliveries while they are whisked autonomously to the next stop. It is very encouraging to consider the new efficiencies to be gained from this up-and-coming technology.

Robotics: The promise of robots making all of our lives easier has been a long slow process. Just the issue of building a humanoid robot that can walk and balance has taken many years to address. If you haven't seen the latest video from Boston Scientific showing their latest generation of mobile robots, give it a look for a peak at the early days of what will at some point become the route delivery personnel (robotel?) of the future.

My concern about both driverless vehicles and robotics will be a high cost of entry in the early stages. The fact that these technologies will be very expensive until broad adoption has occurred likely means that only those companies large enough, and well financed enough, will be able to take advantage of the potential efficiencies and savings to be gained.

Having said that, the threat of hacking and inevitable early generation failures seem to suggest that it will be wise to not dive in on the first wave, regardless of cost.

Universal income: If you had mentioned this concept to me 20 years ago with a straight face I'd have thought you were crazy, but unfortunately there is going to be a larger and larger portion of society that will be left behind, career-wise, as driving and manual labor slowly get replaced. It is estimated that as much as 30% of the population in some states will be unemployed as these new technologies are adopted. It could well be that new, as-yet- unknown jobs will be created, but barring this, having a clear path to ensuring that all citizens are safe and able to take care of themselves will be vital to a strong society.

This will be one of the many painful issues that we will face; and, given the way policy and politics have divided us in recent times, decisions like these will not be easy, nor achieved without much stress and strain on all of us. It is a very exciting time to be alive. and I only hope rational minds will prevail in bringing the promise of a brighter future to fruition.

As always, may your cup run full, and the brew, exquisite.