Vend It To Me!

While you can still get a sugary soda, bag of processed salty stuff, or a congealed glazed doughnut in the vending machine downstairs in the W5 building, the future of vending is changing―finally.

Like other forms of convenient food delivery, vending is shaking up its offerings. Sure, availability at arm’s length is appealing, but the impulse of a vending purchase increasingly must offer intrinsic value beyond ease. Trading quality for accessibility will soon be disappearing from the category―food inherently good for you will also be readily available, whenever.

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal noted a few emerging companies that are successfully dispensing fresh, healthy food. It’s true, vending machines being fresh and healthy are no longer an oxymoron!

Not since the long-gone golden age of Horn & Hardart has fresh, good tasting food been readily available in this way. Chicago-based Farmer’s Fridge, now also available in a half-dozen other states, and growing, has a temping menu for those on the go: breakfast items, salads, bowls, sandwiches, snacks, and even drinks―many vegetarian or vegan. Fresh Bowl, a more recent entry to the category from New York City, offers busy Manhattanites just what its name says: healthy bowls of greens, grains, and protein combos in resealable (and reusable) glass jars.

The key to success today is the ability of these nascent vending companies to harness technology to deliver compelling offerings to consumers. Up-to-the-minute sales data is supplied to headquarters, so just-in-time items that need to be replenished, or removed, can be done so on a daily basis―no day-old turkey salad sitting in the machine or on the shelf of the delivery van. Technology also allows for temperature control, so food offerings are continuously stored at optimum levels. They can even alert you, via an app, when a seasonal item is stocked, and its nearest location.

The food industry has also become adept at cooking food at centralized “ghost kitchens,” where it is prepared daily by food staffs whose sole function is delivery to secondary locations, i.e., this isn’t a take-out business or part-time vending route, it is their sole core business function.

Obviously, the industry is evolving and snafus can be expected along the way, but consumer expectations regarding convenience and food consumption have quickly changed over the past few years. There are many models that will serve people’s needs and stationary interactive machines are most definitely part of that equation―there’s a lot less “moving parts” than restaurants or dubious delivery drivers (one recent study states 28% of food is ‘tasted’ by delivery drivers). Soon, these machines will likely be in your office so you can grab something on the way home, in your apartment building so you can run down while watching your favorite show, and on the street corner when you’ve decided last minute you’re not up for cooking, or going out―just walk up, choose, click, and eat!

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