An vending industry trade show offers a peek at machines that appeal to younger, tech-savvy consumers.
Food and beverage vending companies are betting that younger consumers can recharge their industry, which felt the pinch of the Great Recession.
Vending executives put their optimism on full display Tuesday, showcasing 20 "dream machines" as part of a roadshow put on by the National Automatic Merchandise Association. The event, at Peavey Plaza in Minneapolis, was part of a seven-city tour, which wraps up Thursday in Madison, Wis.
Patrons could see the latest version of the Coca-Cola Interactive vending machine, which features a 46-inch LCD touchscreen, displays a 360-degree view of bottles and allows users to call up promotions and nutritional information.
Also on display was Canteen's 2bU machine, which offers organic, vegan and gluten-free products. Nutritional information is also available on its LCD screen. Launched in late 2009, the 2bU network now includes more than 300 machines nationwide in businesses, hospitals and universities.
Already, vending machines are used to sell everything from $2 shaving kits to $400 electronics. Retailers, in particular, are finding vending machines to be an appealing option. They can track sales and inventory online, avoid excessive trips to restock inventory and help determine hot sellers to promote in stores.
Yet vending machine sales, about $40 billion annually, have been flat the past few years as demand for them has waned.
Vending firms remain hopeful. Research from the National Automatic Merchandise Association (NAMA) shows that 18- to 29-year-olds prefer vending machines over grocery and convenience stores.
"Gen Y consumers like the variety of products and interacting with technology on the newest machines. They grew up feeling comfortable with keyboards," she said.
Vending already has changed to meet consumer demands, with more machines that accept credit and debit cards. NAMA has reported that vending operators that have adopted cashless technology have seen their sales increase by 15 to 25 percent.
Lynae Schleyer, a senior vice president for NAMA, said a growing number of machines also are equipped with "intelligent vending" components that transmit wireless signals to vendors letting them know which products are running low.
Coca-Cola is targeting its new machine at college campuses, said Renuee Eraun, who oversees Coke's wholesale and vending operations in Minnesota, Iowa, and North and South Dakota. It already works with debit and credit cards and the company is working on a system that would allow it to be used with money-loaded student ID cards, she said.
"It's all about taking what's ever in your wallet and making it vendable," said Mary Rampe, a senior vice president at MEI, a West Chester, Pa., provider of unattended payment systems. The company's products include systems that allow customers to pay with cards and large bills and receive change in bills.
Susan Feyder • 612-673-1723