Daily, a soft drink route sales driver makes dozens of scheduled stops at vending machines to collect money, check inventory and perform maintenance. Traditionally, a veteran route driver can only rely on previous experience for vending machine information.

Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc. has tapped Austin, Texas-based Isochron Data Corp., to conduct tests in Charlottesville, Va., on a high tech solution ("the VendCast® system") that provides instantaneous information about any vending machine in the country equipped with this technology. VendCast transmits data ranging from temperature of the machine, cash and product inventory to status of the dollar-bill changer and maintenance requirements.

The VendCast system consists of a box that measures five inches by seven inches by three inches and fits inside the vender door and connects to the electronics inside the machine. An inconspicuous, dome-shaped antenna on the vender broadcasts data to Isochron's data center.

"The beauty of the system is that it takes about 15 minutes to perform the installation," said Rick Harris, Dr Pepper/Seven Up manager-channel research. "It's a turnkey operation with no software installation required," he added. Costs vary, depending upon the customer's specific requirements, but a typical installation that includes daily vending machine monitoring can cost a few hundred dollars per machine.

The VendCast system is easy to install, and once installed, it provides a plethora of customized information to the client, which is then published daily on the client's own Web page. For example, a bottler may want to see how many cans or bottles of a particular brand have sold. Also, the customer may want to check the vending machine's temperature, especially during the summer. The daily report can notify the bottler that a machine is out of order. The customization can even include a diagnosis to help troubleshoot vender functions.

"The Isochron product is totally flexible," said Harris. "You can ask for as few or as many features as you want, and bottlers can view that information daily on their private Web page," he said. He added that the information can be tailored for the specific needs of the corporate office as well as the bottler.

Pepsi bottling partner Everett Anderson in Charlottesville has already realized cost savings in his operation after using VendCast for eight weeks. His route drivers no longer have to plan ahead to determine which vending machines to maintain.

"It requires effort and time to direct which driver stops at which vending machine," said Anderson. "This system tells you about your throughput on a daily basis, not when the driver returns to the office. The drivers know what product to load into the machine before they arrive," he said.

If a vending machine has a plentiful supply of product and change, consumer issues can be solved before they become problems.

"A significant feature of this system is a major lift in sales and customer satisfaction," said Mike Minissale, Isochron sales director. "By knowing when the machine has a coin or paper money jam, or it is in the exact- change mode, you can accurately capture this information and address it," he said.

The information VendCast provides to the industry goes beyond efficiencies, customer satisfaction and ease of operation. Previously, obtaining accurate vending machine sales data was problematic. Whereas standard measures exist for soft drink sales in non-vending channels, no such measurement exists for vending machines. A route driver must make the rounds to the various machines scattered throughout the territory to gather this information.

Although the VendCast system is in the testing phase for Dr Pepper, the technology has already proved to be valuable. Harris expects the learning process to continue.

"We want to be very familiar with this technology so that we can recommend it to our bottling partners," he said. Harris predicts that within three years, vending machines will be manufactured with a VendCast-type system already installed.

Isochron is a privately held corporation with headquarters in Austin, Texas. Isochron's web site is located at www.isochron.com.

Dr Pepper is the leading brand in Plano, Texas-based Dr Pepper/Seven Up, Inc.'s extensive soft drink portfolio. Dr Pepper/Seven Up is the leading non- cola soft drink enterprise in North America, with about 15 percent of the U.S. market. It is the largest subsidiary of London-based Cadbury Schweppes plc (NYSE: CSG). In addition to Dr Pepper, other leading Dr Pepper/Seven Up brands include 7 UP, A&W Root Beer, Sunkist, Canada Dry, Schweppes, Squirt, Welch's and Hawaiian Punch.