Max the Robot … wine expert … but always sober …doesn’t touch the stuff himself …

He looks rather like a girl wearing a pink apron. However, as his name – Max – tells us, he is a boy. And what is more there is nothing he doesn’t know about wine. Max is an interactive wine terminal – a virtual sommelier – and he can be found in some supermarkets in […]

Max the sommelier

He looks rather like a girl wearing a pink apron.

However, as his name – Max – tells us, he is a boy. And what is more there is nothing he doesn’t know about wine.

Max is an interactive wine terminal – a virtual sommelier – and he can be found in some supermarkets in France where he will smilingly but silently advise you on what wine to serve your guests with your poulet à ‘estragon (tarragon chicken) or your moules au curry (curried mussels) or your tarte aux pommes (apple tart) tonight. And what is more his advice is free, but of course you will go straight to the shop’s wine sector if you are to follow his advice.

Max le sommelier virtuel (to give his French name) is the brainchild of three Frenchmen (who else?) They are Yann Mondon, Stéphane Hareng and Luc Guilman, all from Bordeaux (where else?) Their company is Vinoreco, a start-up which was last year (2011) awarded the Grand Prize in the annual Trophée OEnovation competition – inventors’ competition.

What Max does in a matter of 10 seconds when you tell him what food you will be serving by touching the corresponding icons on the screen on his tummy, is to give you the names of the wines you ought to serve and the price of it: he will recommend three in different price ranges. He then prints out his recommendations and adds directions to where in the shop you will find the bottle or bottles. You can also consult Max on your smartphone, IPad etc.

Max has 20,000 wines in his memory bank but his recommendations will depend on those wines that the particular store stocks. Two chain stores – Carrefour and LeClerc – have so far signed up with Vinoreco.

So how does Vinoreco make money out of this?

A-ha! The stores pay it a royalty on the wine sales. As Yann Mondon told Le Parisien of today (April 24, 2012) this year’s royalties come to €500,000 ($656,550 / £408,300). The company has 10 employees.

Researching the habits of France’s wine shoppers Vinoreco’s three creators found that:

(1) 84% of wine purchased is done in retail and specialty shops.

(2) 70% of wine purchased is done by women

(3) 90% of buyers are unsure of which wines to buy

(4) The average amount paid for a bottle of wine is €3.50 ($4.60 / £2.85)

(5) A buyer spends an average 6 minutes choosing a wine. (The average time of contemplation before buying cheese is 1 minute.)

(6) 1 in 4 shoppers leaves without buying the bottle of wine they looked at

(7) The French no longer drink wine daily but only once or twice a week. (This is something I do not believe.)

We are apparently ashamed of our ignorance when it comes to wine and we thus need the 1.95 m (3.2 feet) tall Max to advise us…

Marilyn Z. Tomlins

4 Responses to “Max the Robot … wine expert … but always sober …doesn’t touch the stuff himself …”

  1. 4
    Marilyn Z. Tomlins Says:

    Yann, I hope that I’ve helped a little to draw attention to Max. I will pass on your comments and rectifications. I wish you great success with Max. I need Max here where I live and shop – Auchan in Kremlin-Bicetre just outside Paris, so do see what you can do about installing him here.Thanks. All best, Yann.

  2. 3
    Yann Mondon Says:

    Dear Marylin, dear readers of Marylin’s blog,

    I thank you for both article and reactions. It’s the first time that Max has an article in English for English-speaking readers ! So : thanks again for your interest.
    I am Yann, the co-founder and CEO of Vinoreco, one of Max’s fathers.

    Actually, dear Marylin, we are not paid on sales, but the stores pay a licence fee for using the service + updates of the stock + upgrades of the software + mantenance, etc.

    Dear Susie, Max recommends ALL the wine in the wine section of the store, and NOT only the French wines. We have conceived a neutral interactive sommelier. Moreover, when using Max, each customer can choose his criteria :
    – recipe
    – budget
    – type of wine
    – region or country, so that you can even choose a wine from California, Spain, Italy, etc… IF there is some in the wine section of course : )
    An you are right, almost 20% of wine sold in france is sold by hard-discounters such as Lidl (and 65% by the big retailers such as Carrefour, Auchan, Leclerc…)

    Yes, we aim and we’d love to sell our concept to US stores ! As “visitor” says, it will be unlikely to have Max in Canada, because Canada (according what I know of this market) has probably the most advanced concept of wine shops in the world, with lots of efforts to help the wine neophyte choose his wine.

    I wish you a nice day.

    Best regards

    Yann

  3. 2
    Jo W Says:

    Could do with something like this over here. Of course most of our wine is bought in the Liquor Board store and very often there are knowledgeable people on hand, but not always. It wouldn’t really work in Canada, but it certainly would work in the States.

  4. 1
    Susie Says:

    Blimey! Whatever next? I wonder if Max ever recommends wines from over the seas, such as Chilean, South African or Californian? Probably not, I suspect. I see a lot of French folk buying their wines in Lidl.

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