Tapping Into Unattended Retail For Healthy, On-The-Go Fare

How Food Preparers Tap Into Unattended Retail

To bring nutrient-dense meal options into buildings, prepared meal companies are turning to unattended retail. Alpaca Market, for instance, has a network of vending machines and smart fridges in Austin, Texas. The company’s Founder and CEO Joe Kerby told PYMNTS in an interview that the company serves places “where you find yourself working, living [and] playing.” Those environments include office buildings, gyms and apartments. In other words, Kerby said, “places you would find yourself throughout the day with limited food options.”

Alpaca Market offers a digital touchscreen on its vending machines that lets consumers browse its menu, look at nutritional facts and ingredients and see pictures of the food. Kerby noted the company’s jars are clear, so many people look at the food in the machine before making their selections. When they are ready to check out, consumers can pay through the vending machine with credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay and Android Pay. “It’s an elevator-style machine” that brings food to customers, Kerby said.

Alpaca Market sources local and organic ingredients whenever possible, and also stocks the devices with seasonal menus. Currently, the company is at the end of its spring menu and about to switch to the summer menu. Some menu items are mainstays in most seasons. The company’s Beauty Bowl, for instance, is one of the more perennial items, including ingredients like beets and turmeric that are beneficial for the skin. Another mainstay is the lavender honey chicken salad.

The Differentiators

Alpaca Market’s salads, Kerby said, are the kind a consumer would find in a sit-down restaurant. In fact, the company’s back of the house is the same as those establishments, complete with an executive chef, sous chef and line cooks. In addition to salads, the company also offers breakfast items and snacks. It has also broadened its offerings to include products such as a gluten-free mac ‘n cheese made with gluten-free pasta, heavy cream, cheese, truffle oil and bacon, which Kerby described as a bit heartier and more decadent.

Beyond its vending machine, Alpaca Market also offers a smaller unit for less spacious environments, called a smart fridge. While it also has a digital screen, it works differently than its larger counterpart. The consumer slides her card to unlock the unit’s door and can then take items out; the unit knows what has been taken and charges the customer accordingly. Kerby compared the concept to a smart mini-fridge in a hotel room.

Since launching in March of last year, Alpaca Market has opened 32 locations in Austin. Kerby pointed out a few differences between his service and others in the market. For starters, his company has an allergen-friendly kitchen and offers a menu item for everyone, including gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, Paleo and Keto options. “We’re really like a nutritious, diet-friendly, diet-forward company,” Kerby said. Another factor that sets the company apart is that it can enter smaller environments with a variety of equipment.

The Market

The main driving factor behind Alpaca Market, Kerby said, is that “consumers are really becoming more conscious of transparency in food,” and want to know where their food is sourced and how it is made. The company’s menu caters to that desire, while also providing convenience. Consumers might be otherwise limited to eating processed food from a traditional vending machine or using a lunch delivery service. Alpaca Market has “created a new niche in the market that didn’t exist before,” Kerby said. In the future, the company aims to expand throughout the state of Texas, as well as in multiple markets and states.

Beyond Alpaca Market, Farmer’s Fridge makes fresh food from scratch every day and delivers it to a network of automated fridges via refrigerated trucks. Customers can make purchases through touchscreens on the company’s fridges using their credit cards.

According to the PYMNTS Unattended Retail Tracker, the estimated value of the global intelligent vending machine market is expected to reach $15 billion by 2025.

With the help of touchscreens and better-for-you-food, companies from Farmer’s Fridge to Alpaca Market are providing consumers with expanded access to healthy, on-the-go choices through unattended retail.