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The Future

High-Tech Vending Machines

Vending machines: you never notice them until you need them. When you missed your train and are craving a hot drink or something to nibble on, you’re happy to insert a few coins and get your quick fix. Vending has come a long way and is on the verge of another revolution. Curious? Read on to find out more!

Are vending machines still a thing?

When you’re on the go and have a craving, there’s almost always a vending machine to help you out.

Vending machines dispensing ready-to-eat food and drinks have become indispensable in many companies for decades. They have become part of the basic furniture at public places and canteens!

The latest numbers from the Europe Vending Association show a total of 3.82 million vending machines installed in 2015!1 And Germany holds the largest market share in Europe, with 555,000 known units.2

By 2020, 20% of all vending machines will be “smart”, meaning they’ll recognize who you are along with your personal preferences.3

But was the vending industry always this big?

The Greeks invented the vending machine

As with so many things, the Greeks got there first! The first concept considered a vending machine dates back to the first century C.E. Hero of Alexandria, a Greek mathematician and engineer, developed a holy water dispenser that automatically distributed water when coins were inserted.

It works something like this: the coin you insert in the slot activates an ingenious system. The weight of the coin pushes a lever that opens a small door. As such, water flows freely until the coin drops and the door blocks the water again.

In more recent history, there are some records of small machines dispensing tobacco in seventeenth-century taverns in England. But it wasn’t until the 1800s that vending machines popped up in the market again and caused a real craze!

The first commercial vending machines were found in London and distributed postcards and envelopes. Around the same time, a publisher and bookshop owner introduced a vending machine for books and newspapers.

The vending industry today

In the 21st century, we find vending machines in markets, airports, stations, cafeterias, and even restrooms! Even more so, we don’t have to worry about having enough coins anymore because you can pay with bills or your bank card.

In fact, digital payment caused another giant leap in the industry in 2006, allowing for more expensive merchandise to be sold.

We are now seeing machines selling electronics: those are called retail kiosks. In Japan, where there is a vending machine for every 20-30 citizens (that’s the highest density in the world!), you can find these kiosks for a whole range of products: from life animals (like fish), hot meals, and toilet paper to contraceptives, bicycles, lottery tickets, umbrellas and so on.

The sky really seems to be the limit!

Vending machines of the future

Food vending machines you typically see at your office, school or train station are turning into a new phase once again.

Traditional vending machines have a single purpose: to provide you with the end product of your choice. The products are made in a factory, and then transported from the factory to the vending machine location which will serve it to you as the distributor of the product.

The new vending machines (Vending 2.0) are different in that they produce a product on the spot. So your food is not made in a single big factory, but rather in very local micro-factories.

Enter: personalized food! When food is prepared on the spot, recipes can be adjusted to your personal taste and dietary needs. Because in Vending 2.0 a product is prepared on the spot, there’s also no need for preservatives or other chemical, artificial substances.

Some examples of vending machines that are already doing this today are:

  • Sally the Salad Robot: who prepares your customized fresh salad
  • Cafe X: who makes a customized coffee for you
  • Alberts Smoothie Station: uses fresh fruit & veggies to prepare your personalized smoothie

Now, I hear you thinking: what’s so new about this? Aren’t “normal” coffee machines doing precisely the same thing using fresh beans? Sure! When they are using fresh coffee beans instead of derivatives like powders, they are indeed doing the same thing!

But here’s what’s really blowing people’s minds: personalization of food! The new vending machines are connected to the internet, making personalization possible. Vending 2.0 uses technologies that are actually quite disruptive in the food industry.

How farmers are using vending machines

In the middle of these traditional and new vending machines, we also see another emerging trend: farmers are jumping on the vending train as well. By selling local produce via automated selling points, the farmers are able to bring their products directly and freshly to their local customers.

Germany was the first to launch a fresh, raw milk vending machine. France was quick to adopt this practice and evolved the technology to sell baguettes, eggs, fruit & vegetables and even meat! In Belgium, a local farmer is selling his freshly harvested fruit as well as apple juice, which he makes out of his own apples. Who knows what will be next?


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