Before nutrimeals set up an automated retail solution to distribute prepared meals to consumers, the company was delivering food to customers in Calgary and across Western Canada, but it knew from the beginning that it wanted to have kiosks, Co-founder Grace Clark told PYMNTS in an interview. They just needed to determine the proper timing and develop its business before taking on such a significant investment, she said.
Clark’s business partner, Samuel Hale, studied for a semester abroad in Japan while in school, where many retail options were automated, from convenience stores to groceries, clothing and electronics. When Hale returned, he wanted to tie that automation into the existing food delivery business. Now, the company is taking the spirit of automation to Calgary with a pilot of kiosks that are stocked with fresh and prepared meals. Consumers can use the technology much like they would use a traditional vending machine.
When consumers use the device, Clark said, they interact with “a large touchscreen” that shows all of the available inventory and pricing. It also displays nutrition facts and ingredients – the data that diners need to know if they have dietary restrictions or allergies.
The machine can vend up to three meals per transaction. After consumers have decided which meal or meals they would like to purchase, they can pay through Apple Pay or credit card. In the future, diners will be able to order meals through an app, but for now they have to use the kiosk’s touchscreen.
The company hasn’t yet implemented a microwavable aspect to its kiosks. As Clark noted, Nutrimeals has devices only in office towers, which likely have kitchens that already have microwaves. The company is in the process of testing the market to determine whether consumers prefer “grab and go” items or if they would want meals that require reheating.
Nutrimeals offers a variety of options ranging from vegetarian to gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan. Clark said the goal is to “include everyone” when choosing its inventory, and to not dissuade certain consumers.
Currently, one of the company’s most popular items is its pizza-stuffed chicken breast, which includes pepperoni, mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce. Its taco bowl is also a hot commodity.
Clark noted that “everything we make is fresh” and not frozen. To ensure that consumers don’t see the same menu items over and over again, Nutrimeals rotates its menu every two to three weeks.
While the kiosks are considered a pilot project right now, Clark said they would love to see them in universities, hospitals and sports arenas, so people have access to food on the go on the healthier side or access to a fresh meal 24/7; a valuable thing for customers to have when they find themselves in a hospital at odd hours—or are pulling an all-nighter at the university library.
Many consumers who use unattended retail channels – from self-serve kiosks to vending machines and cashierless stores – say they choose the option for the shorter lines and quicker service, according to PYMNTS’ latest The Future of Unattended Retail report. And 33 percent say they use these channels because they like to take their time while shopping without talking to employees. Also, shoppers who transact through self-serve kiosks or vending machines would not only pay more per purchase, but would also make more purchases.
Just under three in 10 – or 29.3 percent – would make more purchases, while 24.6 percent would spend more per purchase when shopping at unattended locations than at traditional brick-and-mortar stores. At the same time, just under four in 10 – or 39.4 percent – of consumers who have previously shopped this way would be more likely to make unattended compared to traditional purchases.
Now, with inspiration from thousands of miles away, nutrimeals is tapping into the power of automated retail. And in the future, Clark hopes that her kiosks will become permanent, and if the time comes, that the company can become a worldwide firm as it brings prepared food to consumers with the convenience of a kiosk.