A screenshot from Rhea Vendors Group’s official website. [Photo/rheavendors.com/en/]

Rhea Vendors Group, an Italy-based vending machine and automated coffee machine manufacturer, will increase its investment in the Chinese market as it sees tremendous purchasing power among the country’s emerging middle-income earners and amid strong growth potential in the coffee sector.

China is an important country for Rhea and we have opened a branch in Shanghai in order to meet the demand of a mature market that is increasingly interested in what we have to offer,” said Andrea Pozzolini, CEO of Rhea, adding that the company hopes to provide highly customized products and services for Chinese consumers.

Pozzolini said China is definitely a big market, and this is the reason why it is interesting for any European company.

“The influence of the Chinese economic model is standing out in the rest of the world, and we are interested in understanding it in order to be able to better respond to its needs,” he said.

Last year, the company opened a new branch in Shanghai, which will enable Rhea to participate firsthand in this fast-growing market that is highly receptive to high levels of personalized products and services, and the move will also strengthen its presence across Asia.

“Our primary objective is to understand all aspects of this new market so as to respond to the specific needs of Chinese consumers by supporting important brands from coffee and food sectors and offering services to the automated retail channels,” Pozzolini said.

According to the group CEO, Rhea sees a clear and growing interest among Chinese consumers for the Italian coffee culture.

“For us, the Chinese coffee market has a very high potential, so we are open to any kind of cooperation that can be achieved with Chinese companies that share our values and our vision.”

China’s coffee consumption is growing by around 20 percent a year-more than 2 percent above the global growth rate-and this is mainly driven by younger consumers who will account for more than a quarter of the increase in total coffee consumption in China by 2030, he said.

Rhea has always been focused on solutions that go beyond the traditional boundaries of vending, said Pozzolini, while emphasizing that China is an important benchmark in the implementation of 5G and a market that offers lots of opportunities for European manufacturers, and this will empower Rhea to accelerate its process of 5G adoptions.

“5G will enable new functionalities, revolutionizing vending from a cultural as well as a technological perspective. Our mission is to improve the quality of the service, from the best cup of coffee to the automatic vending of any product, whose quality must be guaranteed by the machine.”

He added that many cutting-edge technologies-such as artificial intelligence, big data analytics as well as contactless and cashless technologies-have been deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic and have become key to providing increasingly customized products and services.

Rhea hopes to cooperate with Chinese payment apps such as Alipay and WeChat Pay, which are crucial for “New Retail”-the integration, or interlinking, of online and offline shopping using modern technologies, data and customer engagement techniques to offer personalized solutions.

Experts said the COVID-19 pandemic has given a big boost to contactless consumption models and unmanned retail segments, which include unmanned convenience stores, vending machines and smart containers.

Lu Zhenwang, CEO of Shanghai-based Wanqing Consultancy, said the unmanned retail sector is expected to create new business models and jobs for industries along the industrial chain, from information processing to smart manufacturing.

However, at present, this segment is in its trial phase and related technologies are not mature, Lu said, adding that the application of AI technologies in China’s retail industry will improve overall efficiency and resolve the limitations of traditional retailers, such as inefficient planning and slow responses to market changes.