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Ready to eat: Let’s talk about vending machine dining

4 July 2019 by Food&HotelAsia

In an era where convenience is king and services increasingly lean toward on-demand, it comes as no surprise that Global Industry Analysts has reported that by 2025, the world will be home to as many as 31.6 million vending machine units. Driven by favourable trends in food consumption, the rise of the do-it-yourself shopper, growing overhead costs for brick and mortar businesses, and the advent of smart and connected vending machines, suffice to say that these machines are the future for the food and beverage industry, particularly in densely populated cities with space constraints. 

In Japan, a country well ahead of the current vending machine trend, it is estimated that there are a staggering 5.5 million units, although the intensely saturated market is seeing a decline in sales (according to Euromonitor) due to fierce competition. In markets such as Singapore where the vending machine is not quite as ubiquitous, this trend is growing serious revenue for both machine manufacturers and retailers. In 2017, the city-state recorded $67.2 million in sales, a 3 per cent increase from the previous year and is estimated to exceed $72 million by 2020. Russia, China, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates are also reporting healthy growths. 

Fresh coconut vending machine spotted at FHA2018 

While vending machines in the past were synonymous with highly processed “shelf stable” snack foods or soft drinks, times are changing. Today’s consumers demand healthier snack and meal options – vegan, ‘free from’, gluten-free – and modern day retailers are adapting in order to stay competitive. A bulk of vending machine meals may still comprise of the sodium-heavy pizzas, pastas and sandwiches, but these days, you can also easily find anything from fresh coconuts to protein bars to salads. In Singapore, Shake Salad is a chain of vending machines that serve up fresh salads targeted at the time-starved, health-conscious office worker. With ingredients like kale, quinoa, baked salmon and smoke duck breast, these salads are not unlike those you’d find in upscale cafes – but sold at a fraction of the price.  Founder Heng Ri-Liang even tapped into his background of mechanical engineering to make his machines smarter than your average vending machine; developing software to ensure that the salads are never past expiry date. The machines even utilise an optimisation algorithm to determine how much needs to be restocked each day, which helps to drastically cut down food wastage. 

Technology and digitalisation has transformed many services, products and industries and the once-humble vending machine has not been left out. Alongside sophisticated algorithms, today’s machines also boasts features like cashless payment, smartphone interaction through artificial intelligence, energy-saving vending, facial recognition and self-inventory. The vending machine has transformed, as has its offerings and as consumers become even more time-starved, the future of dining clearly lies in instant, ready-to-grab meals that offer the perfect balance of convenience and health.

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