An Unattended Way To Keep Business Running And Employees Healthy

In the latest Unattended Retail Tracker, Lee Mokri, co-founder of the smart vending startup, explains how unattended technology can help keep employees productive and well-fed while boosting both revenue and morale alike. Plus, the latest on McDonald’s and Shake Shack turning to in-store kiosks to offer faster checkout while delivering on consumers’ changing needs, as well as rankings of top providers, inside the Tracker.

The siren song of the vending machine can often call to employees who are stuck toiling away at their desks. Quick snacks might help satiate cravings, but they often fall short on nutritional value.

A new wave of vending machines is promising to change that, offering everything from healthier snacks and hot, ready-to-eat pizzas to soft-serve frozen yogurt and ice cream. Providers include Byte Foods, which works to replace the traditional breakroom vending machine with smart refrigerators filled with healthy snacks, beverages and even full-fledged meals, all purchased using a mobile app.

According to Lee Mokri, who founded the California-based startup in 2015 with his wife, Megan, the solution aims to be more than a health boost to employees: It could also mean positive effects for employers.

“We place our Byte fridges primarily in businesses around the Bay Area and Sacramento, and also in universities, hospitals, gyms — anywhere people spend time away from home,” Mokri told PYMNTS in a recent interview. “The idea is to add this layer of convenience so that no matter where you are or where you spend most of your time, you can access fresh, healthy meals, snacks and drinks.”

Healthier Choices for Companies

Byte sources from local eateries and food producers to stock its smart fridges, enabling it to offer a rotating menu of items that change frequently to ensure freshness.

“We don’t pick any of the food ourselves,” Mokri said. “Instead, we work with local eateries like Rustic Bakery, a popular bakery in California, or with Urban Remedy, and the fridges are stocked every day.”

Users can view the prices using a screen attached to the smart fridge, then simply open the door and select their items. An automated sensor will detect the products that have been taken, and customers can pay using Byte’s mobile app or a credit or debit card.

“Users don’t need to set up an account, and they don’t need to register with Byte,” Mokri explained. “They just swipe their credit card or debit card, whatever they have in their purse or wallet, and interact with it like any retail experience.”

Keeping Wallets Healthy

Unlike those offering other employee meal plans, companies that use Byte fridges don’t typically cover the cost of its contents. Instead, Byte works with its clients to decide the percentage of costs for which the company will pay and how much employees will be required to cover, Mokri said.

Ensuring employers aren’t on the hook for food costs is a major part of Byte’s goals. As such, most companies elect to subsidize roughly 50 percent. Using a vending option frees employers from having to choose between offering workers no food options whatsoever, or bearing the cost of filling the office pantry with snacks.

“Until today, companies have had very few choices when it comes to [offering] food in their offices,” Mokri explained. “They could offer nothing, which is what most companies do, or give away 100 percent subsidized food. That’s really expensive, and only about 1 percent of businesses are able to do that.”

It can also save employees the time spent looking for a local lunch spot, and the nutritious options can help support personal health and fitness goals.

The Evolution of Healthy Vending

Byte is currently working to expand both the smart fridge features offered and the number of machines it operates – all to give employers and employees even more choices.

“We’re trying to grow our footprint so that wherever you are away from home, there’s fresh food available to you,” Mokri said.

The company is also working to offer additional options, most recently partnering with meal kit provider Chef’d. Under the new agreement, 100 of Byte’s 500 fridges in the Bay Area and Sacramento are now outfitted with Chef’d meal kits for those who prefer to cook their own meals at home or at work. The pair plans to expand the meal kits to all of Byte’s machines within the next six months.

With the help of unattended retail technology, it may not be long before employees can finally give in to the call of the vending machine — without the guilt of unhealthy eating.

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About the Tracker

The Unattended Retail Tracker™ serves as a bimonthly framework for the space, providing coverage of the most recent news and trends, as well as a directory highlighting the key players contributing to the segments that comprise the expansive unattended retail ecosystem.