NFC Promotion Boosts Pepsi’s Midwest Sales

By Claire Swedberg

Rehrig Pacific intends to launch a second promotion, following an initial pilot program that enabled shoppers with NFC phones to tap a tag on the plastic trays on which soda bottles are displayed to access a hockey-game discount and Pepsi promotional info.


Having completed a Near Field Communication (NFC) technology pilot as part of a product promotion for PepsiCo, logistics company Rehrig Pacific has launched a second project this month at the Mall of America, located in Minneapolis. During the Mall of America installation, participants can tap their smartphones against NFC tags at Pepsi product displays in order to access promotional and discount information from Pepsi, mall stores and next week’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game. (Pepsi is a sponsor of Mall of America and the All-Star Game.)

The pilot, which took place at numerous stores during the first quarter of 2014, was intended to determine whether consumers would use their cell phones to access coupons and peruse promotional information about Pepsi products. Rehrig Pacific also aimed to learn whether the project resulted in a subsequent sales boost for those products. Based on that pilot’s results, Rehrig Pacific found that sales increased by 1 to 2 percent. That success, the company reports, is leading the logistics firm to launch a second Pepsi project at the Mall of America.

Shoppers who tapped their NFC-enabled phones on a plastic Pepsi display tray received a $5 discount coupon for the 2014 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Faceoff tournament.

The pilot and the Mall of America installation represent the beginning of Rehrig Pacific’s foray into mobile-based promotions. “Our goal in all we do is to move and merchandize the world’s best brands,” says Kaley Parkinson, Rehrig Pacific’s national sales manager for technology services. The use of NFC technology in the company’s reusable transport items to bring data to consumers, he says, “is a logical extension of that mindset.”

The pilot was designed to test Rehrig Pacific’s new mobile-engagement solution that consists of NFC tags—as well as QR code technology—on the reusable plastic trays (known as “floats”) on which two-liter bottles of Pepsi soda are transported and then displayed in stores. Rehrig Pacific also hosted a server on which shoppers could access a $5 discount coupon for tickets to the 2014 National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) Frozen Faceoff tournament, as well as view promotional information about Pepsi and its products.

Rehrig Pacific often uses technology to better manage the flow of products from the point of manufacture to retailers, Parkinson says, along with providing such reusable transport items as plastic pallets, floats and containers. “Through the marriage of our traditional product with technology, we bridge the gap from getting products from point A to point B, to helping drive the sales of those products themselves,” he states. “We cut supply chain costs, and we help to increase revenues at the same time.”

During the past 18 months, the company has been researching, developing and testing a mobile-engagement solution that would allow product manufacturers and retailers to boost sales by providing promotional content directly to consumers at the store, Parkinson says. The Pepsi Bottling plant in Burnsville, Minn., agreed to test the technology in a regional promotion by replacing 200,000 of its plastic floats with NFC-enabled versions that also come with a QR code label.

Rehrig Pacific is the sole provider of the floats for all Pepsi Bottling products. Altogether, Pepsi has four million such floats throughout the United States, each of which can hold eight two-liter bottles of Pepsi products.

The Pepsi Bottling facility in Burnsville was selected for the promotion, Parkinson says, because it had a relatively closed-loop supply chain. By contrast, floats elsewhere in the country often end up at other regional bottling plants, while the Minnesota plant typically keeps its floats within its own supply chain—either at its own site or at one of its thousands of retailer customers throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas.

Rehrig Pacific periodically replaces the floats with upgraded versions. For the pilot, it replaced all existing floats used in Minnesota with those that also came with a QR code attached to the front, and a Metalcraft passive NFC RFID tag affixed to an interior section, behind text instructing consumers to “tap here.” The floats were then shipped out with all new products to area stores during the first quarter of this year.

Rehrig Pacific’s Kaley Parkinson

Upon approaching the Pepsi displays at a store, consumers read instructions printed on the float to access the promotional offer via the QR code or the NFC tag. Approximately 40 percent of those who responded to the instructions used the NFC technology built into their phones, while the others opted for the QR code—possibly because not all mobile phones were NFC-enabled. Those who did have NFC technology on their phones needed only to tap the phone where instructed. The handset captured the NFC tag’s unique ID number and, based on that ID, automatically displayed a website, hosted by Rehrig Pacific. On that website, the user could access promotions and information regarding Pepsi products, as well as obtain a $5 coupon for the hockey tournament. The Pepsi promotional data included a link to a “What’s your flavor?” choice menu, where users could access product-specific websites, as well as additional coupons pertaining to their particular tastes.

Additionally, users were asked to grant permission for Rehrig Pacific’s software to track their phone’s location. If they said yes, the server software could collect location data directly from the phone’s built-in GPS functionality. However, Parkinson says, if they rejected that option, the software could still record the cell tower data so that the system knew the general area in which the phone was located, if not the exact store. Location data was collected during the promotion, but not used. However, if Pepsi had chosen to use that information, it could have helped better identify the store in which the products had been located, thereby verifying that those products had been delivered to the intended site.

As part of the promotion, each user was also invited to share his or her e-mail address, thereby providing Pepsi with the option of contacting that individual in the future to present additional promotions. The promotion ended at the end of the first quarter of 2014, Parkinson reports, though the NFC tags remain in the floats and could thus be used for further promotions.

The results of the promotion found that at sites where the tagged floats were on display, sales of Pepsi products were boosted by 1 to 2 percent. In addition, of those shoppers who accessed the data, 48 percent continued to click through to view media about Pepsi.

For the Mall of America project, Rehrig Pacific is employing NFC-tagged plastic floats to provide Pepsi product consumers with similar access to discounts and media content. “From our perspective, this is easy to do. We’re already ubiquitous in retail,” Parkinson says. “This has been the first major consumer engagement study for us,” he adds, but he expects more such promotions to be launched once the Mall of America project is completed.

PepsiCo did not respond to requests for comment.