You might be surprised to learn that the history of the vending machine goes back to first-century Roman Egypt, where Hero of Alexandria engineered a machine that accepted a coin and dispensed holy water. In modern times we’ve seen vending machines offer everything from postcards and stamps to candy, gum and cigarettes. Their popularity as beverage dispensers came with refrigeration and heating elements – and today we see an astounding array of products sold from vending machines. Making your way to the gate at an international airport you might pick up an iPad, a SIM card for your phone, a down jacket, a warm hamburger, and an aspirin – plus a cold bottle of water to help you swallow it!
Responding to the social distancing imperative presents multiple challenges for retail environments. We’ve seen limits on the number of people allowed into supermarkets, one-way aisles, distance markers at the checkout, food bars emptied, cafés and breakrooms closed, and Plexiglass shields erected around store personnel. These and other efforts by retailers to keep customers and staff safe and limit exposure are appreciated by all. But ideally, customers could shop for their essential items without interacting with a cashier or even going into a store. And retailers can make the ideal, real, with vending machines.
How can operators use their machines—the ultimate unattended retail model—to serve to the needs of social distancing? Read below to see how 3 retailers have already adapted.
The Meat Guy Who Was Ahead of the Social Distance Curve
The owner of Applestone Meats was ready for social distancing years before the pandemic brought the concept into the mainstream. Wanting to serve customers without a retail counter-service location, Joshua Applestone remembered the coin-operated machines once used in cafeteria-style restaurants in New York and Pennsylvania. Applestone searched for and found Crane Merchandising’s refrigerated delivery system, The Shopper, which allowed his customers to pull meat packages directly from their container. And to be ready for card acceptance, he added the 4-in-1 Plus cashless reader.
Applestone customers liked the convenient delivery method well enough before, but after the pandemic? “We thought society might take a while to warm up to the machines,” says Applestone, “but for the situation we’re all in [now], they’re the perfect solution.”
From Healthy Snacks to PPE Provider
Healzzy2GO, a Netherlands-based vending company, believes that snacking should be accessible, fun, and most importantly, healthy. With the challenges of staying safe in a global pandemic, “healthy options” takes on new meaning. Healzzy2GO decided to make personal protective equipment (PPE) as accessible to their customers as healthy snacks. They worked with Crane Merchandising Systems to adapt their vending machines to dispense facemasks, hand sanitizer, gloves, and other personal equipment. Custom graphics and media were placed on the machines to educate consumers about the product offering.
The first Healzzy2GO PPE machine debuted in May, providing shoppers at the Alexandrium Shopping Center in Rotterdam and Hoog Catharijne in Utrecht the protection they need to shop safely.
The Healthy Machine Serving Frontline Workers
Farmer’s Fridge, a New York-based vending startup, gained popularity by providing vend patrons with healthy options like salads in plastic jars and fresh wraps, instead of the usual candy and soda. When offices closed due to COVID-19, many Farmer’s fridge locations saw a precipitous drop in usage. But, as they say, when a door closes a window opens, and in this case, it was true. Farmer’s Fridge saw a surge in usage in hospital settings – where cafeterias were shut down to limit spread of the virus. To meet the demand, Farmer’s Fridge added over 18 machines to locations that included Northwestern Memorial Hospital, New York Presbyterian and the Javits Center field hospital. Farmer’s Fridge also supported the efforts of front-line workers by adding more than 60 mini fridges that served complimentary meals in hospital break rooms.
Vending machines are typically a last resort for healthcare workers, but due to their value proposition of removing the roadblocks to eating wholesome, delicious food, Farmer’s Fridge is now serving fresh meals to over 30,000 workers per week at hospitals across the U.S. One surgeon at UChicago tweeted: “Thank you @FarmersFridge for keeping the trauma/ICU team fed during #COVID19.”
Vending Moving Forward
How does an industry so firmly rooted in serving sweet treats and soft drinks recreate its persona as the hero of a pandemic? “The Convenience Services Industry is uniquely equipped to assist the nation in this time of crisis,” writes Carla Balakgie, president and CEO of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, in a letter to the White House and U.S. Congress. Balakgie cited the unique distribution system of unattended retail as “the greatest source of ‘contactless’ nourishment” for healthcare workers. In other words, the machine invented by a man called Hero can now live up to that name.
Are you ready to adapt your machine to serve the needs for health and safety in these times of crisis? Ask a member of our vending team how you can make seamless and safe payment a part of your pandemic vending strategy.