Mixed reality – an emerging ‘future of retail’ technology – is set to become a part of everyday trading at some Comvita Asia stores, following its successful showcase at New Zealand Expo in Dubai.
In a unique collaboration project, the New Zealand FernMark licensee and natural health products business is using Microsoft’s HoloLens technology to give customers a multi-sensory experience that incorporates taste with the sights and sounds of the New Zealand forest.
Customers sit in front of a tray of two different types of honey, with a spoon and a glass of sparkling water. Thanks to HoloLens headsets, the wearers find themselves in front of a native New Zealand punga tree, with a full-size beehive. They’re guided through the forest by a virtual beekeeper experiencing bees flying around them, complete with sounds of the hive and nature. As spoons are dipped to taste the honey, the HoloLens traces sparkles in the air like a wand.
Comvita’s Global Head of Brand Marketing, David Bathgate, describes it as a fully immersive Mānuka honey tasting experience like no other – like ‘wine tasting on steroids’. His main advice: keep your eyes open.
“The sense of magic and connection to nature’s healing power is captivating people”, he says.
Long considered trailblazing and forward thinking, Comvita has always conveyed a strong message about New Zealand as its country of origin. At Expo 2020 it was one of a group of iconic New Zealand brands called the Care Collective, which supported New Zealand’s expo theme, Care for People and Place – an extension of the New Zealand Government’s belief that New Zealand is good for the world.
Bathgate says wherever Comvita is in the world, it always plays the proud role of ambassador for Aotearoa New Zealand – and bearing the FernMark underscores that.
“The HoloLens technology provides us with an amazing opportunity to connect our consumers around the world to the magic of the hive and our unique Aotearoa Mānuka forests. The FernMark reinforces that, giving consumers added confidence in the authenticity of Comvita’s products. It reflects our strong country of origin roots and supports our corporate values of kaitiakitanga, right through to our leading science and innovation.”
To reach a global audience amid the pandemic, Comvita had to step up its use of technology from its custom designed 180-degree theatre in the Auckland experiential store (the Wellness Lab) and create something new and portable. It worked with experiential designers, Blur the Lines and with Microsoft’s global mixed reality team to develop the experience.
“This signals another special chapter at Comvita as we aim to become a true digital-first, premium consumer health and wellness brand, “says Bathgate.
“We believe that in this new COVID era, arguably now more so than ever before, retail is about creating authentic experience and connection. We’re incredibly proud to be delivering this unique experience for our consumers.”
Matt Bostwick, Partner Director at Microsoft New Zealand says he is thrilled to see Comvita and Blur the Lines using HoloLens to influence how people taste and learn about different products.
“This is an example of real Kiwi ingenuity in a way that brings fresh, and in this case, sweet dimensions to the multi-sensory experience. To be making this strong connection between our food and the environment in a way that people can viscerally experience and remember, not only makes for more powerful customer engagement, but it also has the potential to change the way people think about our relationship with the natural world,” says Bostwick.
Looking forward, Comvita expects to have at least two locations running with HoloLens this year, one in Kuala Lumpur and the other in Shanghai, with dates yet to be confirmed. Bathgate is confident that carrying the FernMark across its products will strengthen the appetite within these markets, by demonstrating provenance and connecting to the Kiwi ingenuity that underpins this unique Comvita experience.
“Global brands like ASOS, IKEA and Dulux already use augmented or virtual reality in store and online, but we are excited that our fully immersive, mixed reality experience goes a step further. By utilising the HoloLens’ multiple sensors to meld with the environment, we are providing our customers with an intrinsic taste of New Zealand that demonstrates provenance, which is a game changer as we build our presence in global markets,” says Bathgate.