Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Could the Future of Retail Dining Be Vending Machine-Powered?

In the 1940s and 50s, modern dining took on the shape of the Automat, a cafeteria-style restaurant where various dishes were available behind little glass doors in vending machines.  That innovation soon fell from favor, but a 21st-century variation on that theme may be the next thing in fresh food fast!  Computerized vending machines are springing up that serve everything from Sprinkles Cupcakes and Jamba Juice smoothies to hot pizza and fresh toasted burritos. Can immediacy and convenience trump counter ordering and the amenities of a restaurant location?

Hunter Communications Original News Source:
The Los Angeles Times

Link to article:

Excerpt: "'There is a lot of innovation happening in vending machines,' said Omar Khedr, industry research analyst at IBISWorld. 'It's occurring in niche markets like organic foods, propelled forward by access to new technology and convenience.'

Sprinkles Cupcakes is installing its 'Cupcake ATM' at all 16 bakeries around the country. L'Oreal tested a vending machine in New York during the holidays that scanned a shopper's outfit and recommended complementary makeup. San Francisco start-up Momentum Machines is making a device that cooks up customized burgers with no help from human hands.

Such vending extravagance is driven by consumers with increasingly picky tastes who still want convenience on the go. The boom in mobile and Web-based shopping also has trained customers to browse and buy with no help from salespeople or waiters.

'It's a case of technological innovation at an affordable price,' said Christopher Salyers, author of "Vending Machines: Coined Consumerism.' 'The Internet has only proliferated this worldview of pay-and-click consumers.'

Long before McDonald's, coin-operated vending machines served pies and sandwiches to armies of harried workers. But the U.S. has since fallen behind Europe and Asia, where futuristic machines offer a vast array of goods including gold bars, eggs and live beetles. In Japan, automated kiosks sell heads of lettuce after growing them under artificial lighting.

Innovations are now driving a renaissance in U.S. self-serve kiosks.

After five straight years of decline, revenue for the U.S. vending machine industry is poised to rise and hit $7.7 billion in 2019, up nearly 7% from $7.2 billion this year, according to an IBISWorld report. Experts say 2014 marks the comeback of the sector after years squeezed by budget-conscious shoppers who opted for value over vending convenience.

Denis Koci said he spent five years developing the technology for the Burritobox, which offers warm burritos on demand. His Los Angeles company, the Box Brands, rolled out six machines this year in the Southland and in August will start franchising nationally in places such as colleges, Koci said.

Diners can pick between options such as hand-rolled vegan fajita burritos for $3.65 and add sides such as guacamole and sour cream. Soon the boxes will toast the burritos and also offer warmed chips with salsa. The products are heated inside to 195 degrees Fahrenheit before popping out.

Koci said he was inspired by the 'Star Trek' television series, on which a machine called the replicator made meals on demand.

Within six months, the company plans to roll out Pizzaboxes that bake pies to 800 degrees.

'The goal is to do what they do in fast food restaurants inside a machine,' Koci said.

But to succeed, companies will have to overcome doubts about the quality of vending machine fare, analysts said."

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