Digital Dunkin’: Non-Tech Firms Crash CES, Looking to Connect


The monorail near the convention center stop outside the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday. Photo: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS—At the world’s largest consumer electronics show this week, Carnival cruise lines, Dunkin’ Donuts and the owner of Absolut vodka unveiled new technology and swapped tips.

The CES event has long been a gathering for tech geeks and electronics manufacturers. With technology reshaping many industries, more traditional companies are crashing the party.

French spirits company Pernod Ricard SA, the maker of Absolut, is attending for the first time to introduce and seek feedback on Opn, a connected cocktail library. “We’re here to find people who might be interested in supplying us with tech, or partnering with us,” said the director of Pernod Ricard’s innovation group, Alain Dufosse. “The opportunities here are richer than a spirits industry conference, where it is the same old club.”

In recent years, technology has seeped into many traditional sectors, such as those interfacing with consumers. “We saw a convergence coming in different industries” because of the growing ubiquity of computer chips, said Gary Shapiro, longtime president and chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes the CES.

These nontech companies are swept up by the same trends that dominate the tech industry, such as connected devices. They are looking at technology with the hope that it could help boost sales.

Procter & Gamble Co.’s air-freshener brand Febreze set up a booth on the show floor this week to display its high-tech spritzer, which began shipping last year and connects with Alphabet Inc.’s Nest home-automation system to modulate scent release.

Pernod Ricard’s connected cocktail library, which the company plans to launch next year, includes boxes of alcohol—including Absolut, Martell cognac and Beefeater gin—that sit on a smart tray and pair with an app that provides directions on how to make cocktails.

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Cruise line operator Carnival Corp., whose chief executive delivered a keynote at the expo Thursday, this week unveiled a blue, coin-size wearable device that travelers can put on a bracelet, necklace or in a pocket. It is equipped with sensors so that people can locate family members onboard and pass security checks for getting on and off the ship faster, for example.

The device, which will be available on its ships in November, is also designed to help crew members predict passengers’ interests and requests, so a waiter could know what a diner drank the previous night and suggest a similar wine.

Some companies are repeat visitors to CES, such as coffeehouse chain Dunkin’ Brands Group Inc. and office supplier Staples Inc.

Scott Hudler, chief digital officer at 66-year-old Dunkin’ Donuts, brought a team this year to learn how self-driving car technology could inform a passenger of the closest Dunkin’ location and how to reroute the car to make a coffee stop.

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“The opportunity is to come and find more ways to sell doughnuts and coffee,” Mr. Hudler said. Previously, Dunkin’ has sent teams to focus on interacting with customers on social media.

Staples, which sent its largest team ever to CES this year, is piloting a program to let customers make their purchase requests through an app, text, email, Facebook Messenger, Slackbot or with an “Easy Button”—a push-button ordering device that also takes voice commands.

“Disruption is still in the early days,” said Staples’ chief technologist Faisal Masud. “Is the office of the future going to look like it does today? Probably not.”

The new releases from nontech firms are a far cry from the transistor radios and black-and-white television sets that were among the first gadgets launched at CES 50 years ago.

But one company attended this year to push back at the idea that technology is disrupting its business. American Greetings Corp. said the sale of greeting cards has been “relatively stable” over the past decade, despite the rise of social media, according to Alex Ho, the company’s executive director for marketing.

At CES, American Greetings set up its first booth, resembling an Apple Inc. store with brightly lit wood tables and displays, to show off its product: a paper greeting card. It “comes with unlimited memory and it works across all platforms,” Mr. Ho said.

Write to Georgia Wells at

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