To provide consumers with fresh, on-the-go food in an eco-friendly way, innovators in the culinary space are bringing salads and other options to vending machines. FRESH.BOWL, for instance, stocks its kiosks with locally sourced meals that are approved by nutritionists and made at its New York City kitchen. The idea is to have them in train stations, offices, gyms and hospitals – places where consumers can grab and go. At the same time, the company has a sustainability component: The dishes that it serves come in reusable glass jars; when consumers finish their meals, they can return the jars to the machine and receive a credit for their next purchase.
FRESH.BOWL’s machine has a large glass window, and people are attracted by the products’ aesthetic appeal, Co-founder Chloe Vichot told PYMNTS. The interaction with the machine is very simple, she noted: It has a screen that walks consumers through the purchasing process for salads, snacks or breakfast foods.
The salads are prepared in a unique way, as they come with the dressing in the jar at the bottom. “You actually have to shake it like a cocktail shaker” for a few seconds to dress the salad, Vichot said. Diners can then eat directly out of the jar. One product is the Miso Rainbow Bowl, which its website describes as a “mix of colorful antioxidant-rich veggies in a sesame miso dressing with an umami kick.”
The company’s ideal consumer, Vichot said, is someone who is “on the go looking for a healthy option.” That person could be an individual working in an office building who has back-to-back meetings or is stuck in the office late, and is seeking healthier convenience food options.
When it comes to preparation and logistics, FRESH.BOWL’s kitchen prepares fresh food every morning, and the driver then stocks every location and collects the empty reusable jars. Everything is made in-house except for the drinks, which include such options as kombucha, coconut water and apple juice.
Vichot pointed out that the market is ready for quick, healthy food. At the same time, according to the latest PYMNTS Automated Retail Tracker, the estimated number of vending machines in the U.S. is about 4.5 million.
The Automated Retail Market
Beyond the bright lights and big city of New York, unattended retail solutions for distributing fresh and healthy food are taking hold in other parts of the United States. Alpaca Market, for instance, has a network of vending machines and smart fridges in Austin, Texas. As the company’s Founder and CEO Joe Kerby told PYMNTS in a previous interview, the company serves “places you would find yourself throughout the day with limited food options,” such as gyms, office buildings and apartments. Alpaca Market has a digital touchscreen on its vending machines that allow diners to browse its menu, look at nutritional facts and ingredients and see pictures of the food.
And in Chicago, Farmer’s Fridge makes fresh food from scratch every day and delivers it to a network of automated machines via refrigerated trucks. As Founder and CEO Luke Saunders told PYMNTS in a previous interview, the machines can work in many different settings, from airports to universities – “anywhere that we can find 12 square feet and [an] electrical connection.”
With the help of automated vending technology, culinary innovators from New York City to Texas to Chicago are aiming to provide consumers with better-for-you meals designed for health and convenience.