Vending machines have come a long way in the last decade. Here, we highlight five trends that are transforming catering & vending from a ‘tick box’ exercise to an effective means of engaging with employees and encouraging greater staff productivity and wellbeing
1 Cashless payment
To meet growing demand for convenient payment methods, new vending machines typically integrate some form of cashless payment, including card-based (PIN and contactless) and app-based payment methods.
Payment options can be ‘open’, using a debit card, or ‘closed’, using a pre-paid card provided by an employer. Some payment systems, like those provided by VMC, support both ‘open’ and ‘closed’ systems.
According to the AVA’s latest industry census, the number of ‘open’ cashless transactions per month doubled in 2016, with contactless card and mobile payments accounting for just under half of these, up from 35-40% in 2015.
Biometric payment, via fingerprint or facial recognition, is another option that enables people to make payments via pre-registered bankcards or company accounts. Identity management company BioStore can retrofit biometric readers to vending machines already installed in the workplace.
2 Digital displays
Many modern machines feature attention-grabbing digital displays and touchscreens. These offer a familiar, intuitive user experience, easy product selection and digital signage applications. They can be used to show nutrition and allergy information, to display and share important messages with employees and even to generate additional revenue through advertising.
Broderick’s Media Vend machine, for example, sports a 42-inch LED HD touchscreen display and has been designed with interactive advertising in mind. Major snack and drinks brands, such as Cadbury and Coco Cola, can use the space to advertise their products and run competitions, influencing customer choice at the point of purchase.
Managing director John Broderick said: “SMEs who have introduced our unique, on-screen, point-of-purchase advertising channel, Broderick’s Media Vend, are reporting increased employee engagement and a higher monthly spend per head.
“Frequent Media Vend product promotional activity is proving a big draw and a talking point within the workplace, with a fabulous array of prizes. Unsurprisingly, repeat custom has soared, with SMEs benefiting from the revenue generated. Our smart Media Vend machines have also enabled us to launch the UK vending sector’s first Loyalty App, which is boosting customer engagement and return visits.”
He added: “Many of our SME customers are successfully utilising the Media Vend screens to benefit their own internal communications – especially those with split sites where internal comms can be more challenging. The Broderick’s Media Vend screen provides the ideal forum to promote key company messages and company intranet content.”
3 Micro markets
The micro market is a new alternative to traditional vending solutions. Utilising both cashless payment and digital displays, a micro market is an unmanned, self-service store set up within a workplace breakroom where employees can buy lunches, snacks and drinks.
Micro markets offer a wider selection of products than vending machines, including hot, cold and fresh foods, and being available 24/7 are a good option for businesses that employ shift workers or want to stop employees from leaving the office during working hours.
As an early adopter of new vending technologies and solutions, Broderick’s has developed a scalable, customisable micro market, the brodshop, which it offers as an alternative to a staff canteen or as a satellite unit to complement an existing catering facility. As part of its full support service, Broderick’s restocks brodshops using a fleet of refrigerated vehicles.
Broderick said: “We came up with the brodshop approach as a perfect solution for SMEs that need to offer their staff a more comprehensive refreshment solution than a bank of vending machines, but who aren’t yet ready to introduce their own full-blown restaurant, with the overheads, logistics and workplace space considerations that this entails.”
He points out that employees increasingly view premium on-the-go refreshment options as part of their perks package and that the more engaging the shopping experience the more staff are likely to spend.
“SMEs that introduce brodshops are able to offer their team an inviting shopping experience featuring a great selection of high quality beverages and snacks,” explained Broderick. “Engagement can be further strengthened by weekly promotions and special offers. The brodshops checkouts also enable savvy SMEs to advertise key company, product and promotional messages on-screen, acting as an extension of an intranet.”
Employees who are interested in the technology but not the implant, can wear an RFID wristband or an RFID/Near-Field Communication Smart Ring instead.
Todd Westby, 32M CEO, thinks this technology could become the norm. “We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything – making purchases in an office break-room market, opening doors, using copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and paying at other RFID terminals. Eventually, this technology will become standardised, allowing you to use it as your passport, on public transit and for all purchasing opportunities,” he said.
Westby added: “We see chip technology as the next evolution in payment systems, much as micro markets have steadily replaced vending machines. As a leader in micro market technology, it is important that 32M continues leading the way with advancements such as chip implants.”
5 Healthy eating
Products typically associated with vending machines include crisps, chocolate and fizzy drinks. An Australian study published in the Journal of Nutrition & Dietetics analysed the contents of 61 vending machines at a large Australian university and found that 95% of snacks and 49% of drinks were ‘unhealthy’. Fortunately, there’s a growing trend for healthier alternatives, as well as products that accommodate special dietary requirements, such as gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan.
This trend was evident at September’s AVEX vending exhibition, which once again included a Health and Wellbeing Zone, following its inauguration in 2015. The zone featured a broad range of healthy vending products, such as fruit and vegetable crisps and nut and seed-based snacks.
According to AVA’s recent industry census, water and low sugar/diet drinks accounted for 39% of cold drinks sold in 2016, and Broderick expects this trend to continue as people become more health-conscious and initiatives like the ‘sugar tax’ on the soft drinks industry come into force.
“Healthier and free-from options will become a must-have in the workplace,” he said. “Our Broderick’s Better for You range has many fans as companies aren’t paying just lip service to encouraging a healthy workforce, but are actually delivering healthy options to a very appreciative team!”
The key themes linking these trends are ‘flexibility’ and ‘choice’: flexibility in how to pay for products; bespoke solutions to suit any workplace; the addition of technology for a better user experience; and a greater selection of food and drink.
With today’s more engaging vending technologies, it is no longer enough to stick a vending machine in the corner and be done with it. Instead, smart businesses are using vending to engage with their employees and show how much they are valued. As Broderick says: “The days of the old 1960s vending machine hidden away in a gloomy corridor or stairwell are long since gone!”