Vending machines have come a long way in the last decade with the rise of compact refreshment centers and coffee vending machines that grind freshly roasted beans to make great tasting fresh brews. Oftentimes the delicious coffee served in fancy restaurants is machine-made in the kitchen.
Today all manner of vending technology is hot with investors due to the advent of new Point of Sale (POS) computer systems. New machines can now come with cashless payment modules; they read credit cards or employee access badges and debit an account that's settled once a month.
The best food dispensers on the market today have efficient refrigeration units, and state of the art internal security systems. The rise of generic vending machines is probably the greatest single innovation however, as this makes anything possible, and in this way the various corporate Dealer Plans challenge innovative merchandisers and entreprenuers to grow wealthy by inexpensively providing high quality products for sale in hard-to-staff locations.
Recently Fuel Ghoul explored Fresh-o-Matic and wrote a UER forum post about how I and went behind the scenes at this famous vending machine distibution center on the east end of Toronto near Hwy 401 and Markham Rd.
History of Vending Machines
The earliest known reference to a coin operated vending machine is in a first century work by the Hero of Alexandria, who was by most accounts a Greek engineer and mathematics scholar that resided in Alexandria, an enlightened city on the Eygyptian coast. His machine accepted a heavy coin and used gravilty to dispense holy water. When the coin was deposited, it fell down upon a pan attached to a lever. The weight of the coin produced a mechanical reaction which opened a closed a valve dispensing the precious liquid. I'm not sure if this machine ever actually existed, but it stands to reason that somebody probably built one from these handsome plans.
According to the wiki file on vending machines there were coin-operated devices that dispensed tobacco in London England as early as 1615, and over the course of that turbulent century they appeared many more in taverns across the country supported by Royalists and Roundheads alike.
In 1883 a more modern coin-operated vending machine was invented in the UK by Percival Everitt to sell postcards and stamps. It was a great commercial success and soon came into widespread use at British railway stations and post offices, dispensing envelopes, postcards, and notepaper.
The first vending machine in the United States was built in 1888 by the Thomas Adams Gum Company. The Tutti Frutti Gum Machine replicated the success of Everrit's postcard dispensing machine, and sold gum in the New York City transit system. It was another twenty years or more before the snack food industry adopted vending machines, and the first refrigerated pop machines only came about in the 1930s. At first they were cooled with ice which of course required daily maitenance.
Today according to Fresh-o-Matic vending machine industry stats page, vended canned cold drink sales totalled $16.6 billion last year, vended confections and snacks topped out at $7.6 billion, and the 'other' category is growing as the estimated 2013 North American annual vended dollar and product volume was $38.7 billion.
Today's Vending Machines Have Sophisticated Computer Circuit Boards
Computerized keypads and fluid mechanics are changing the vending industry. In grocery stores across the continental United States and Canada, shoppers can already buy toys, tools and computer software, and rent movies and video games from machines called 'Big Red Boxes'. At last count there were over 45,000 of the red box video vending machines in operation in almost all major population centers.
Airports and shopping malls are places where consumers are most likely to encounter new vending technology. Amazingly travellers today can purchase new socks, iphone accessories, Android phones, pet food, beauty products, perfumes and digital cameras. There are automated language software vending kiosks, as well as allowing travellers to be able to download movies to a portable flash drive that will play on their tablets.
in the near future vending machines will be even smarter and will be used for nationwide loyalty and rewards programs - contest winners can redeem prizes at these machines and the owners will be reimbursed by the participating companies.
Office Managers and Business Owners Seek Healthy Snack Vending
Another trend is the rise of healthy snack foods in schools and work place lunchroom. Beyond granola bars, the most nutritious new compact refreshment centers are stocked daily with baked chips, dried fruit nibbles and fresh juices. Deploying healthy snack options is all about lowering company insurance premiums by offering better choices. Employers providing more nutritious foods in the office notice employees working more productively at their desks for longer periods of time.
The realty of urban life and the rise of the 24 hour work day make vending machines rather attractive to consumers who work odd hours. And the economics of the industry make it easy to see why retailers are turning to vending machines for all types of product offerings. Retail stores produce about $250 a square foot a year in sales, while a 9sq foot vending machine can generate $5,000 to $10,000 per square foot in one year.
The challenge for entrepreneurs is to find well trafficked safe places where vending machines can sell handy products and can be accessed around the clock by people grateful for the cost effective shopping option. The convenience of vending machines will never go out of style.