By PlanetLaundry staff | Sep 21, 2011
Like the difference between rotary phones and smartphones – or, more appropriately, the avocado-colored toploading washers of the ’70s and today’s stainless-steel high-extract frontloaders – the vending machines that currently offer snacks and drinks to your laundry customers will soon seem like dinosaurs compared to the models about to enter the marketplace.
The new age of paying by credit card, key fob and smartphone is slowly evolving as the vending industry tries to attract a new generation that would rather touch screens than coins.
To help consumers warm to the upcoming changes, the National Automatic Merchandising Association – the industry's major trade group – is hosting a traveling tour of its “dream machines,” which recently opened in New York City.
“We now have machines that look and act like giant iPads,” said NAMA’s Dan Mathews. “We're changing the stereotypes.”
As the economy continues to struggle, U.S. vending sales have steadily slipped, slowing to about $43 billion last year.
“To attract Gen-Y consumers, the industry must install mobile-wallet platforms in all college vending machines,” explained industry consultant Allen Weintraub.
Here are some of the industry’s new offerings:
• Social vending. PepsiCo has a prototype with a touch-screen that's interactive. Consumers can “gift” a beverage to a friend by entering the friend's name and mobile number. They can even personalize it with a short video.
• Smart vending. Kraft is testing a touch-screen machine that lets you see close-up images of the package so that you can read details such as ingredients and nutritional facts. It also lets you buy multiple snacks at a time.
• “Talking” machines. The largest vending machine maker, Crane, has a machine that lets consumers buy snacks and drinks from several machines at one time but pay only once with a debit card, a stored-value card or a smartphone.
• Made-to-order cotton candy. For the sweet tooth set, a new machine, the VendEver Cotton Candy Factory, dispenses fresh cotton candy on a stick in less than a minute.
• Made-to-order Ramen noodles. It takes a college kid to fully understand the munchies. So Leonard Kang, a Gen-Y entrepreneur and a University of Chicago graduate, has created the Ramen Noodle Station, which makes fresh, customized Ramen noodles – in three minutes.
And for those customers who like to kick your store’s vending machines, Mathews warned that the new machines are built to withstand even the most lethal blows – and some are also equipped with tiny cameras to record those moments of vending rage.
Sources: USA Today, NY1.com