The vending machine as an urban phenomenon has a strong traditional connection with candy bars, soft drinks and other types of junk food. But the good ol’ vending machine slightly starts to gain a position in the distribution of healthy food as well. A while ago we stumbled upon a couple of initiatives that aim to automatically dispense healthy food to urbanites.
Over the last years, healthy products were largely presented in healthy looking eco packages at farmer markets and in hipster eco supermarkets, but now the market seems to be opening up. Healthy food is increasingly available in an on-the-go mode. Obviously, the idea here is to reach out to a new group of customers that likes to eat healthy but sticks to the to fast-food habits that are deeply rooted in their lifestyles.
In Chicago the latest innovation in this field is Farmer’s Fridge, a new vending machine that offer fresh salads in recyclable plastic jars. The idea is interesting, but to keep the salads really fresh requires hard work. Every morning the team picks up fresh produce from the country side and starts preparing the salads at 5 AM (!). At 10 AM the company fills its vending machines, and removes yesterday’s salads (that will be donated to a local pantry). Visitors of a local food court can now get a tasty and fresh salad for $6 to $8. The jars can be returned to the kiosk and will be re-used in order to diminish waste. Every day from 6 PM a $1 discount is automatically given on all salads.
A similar business can be found at a gas station in Los Angeles — not exactly the place where you would expect the launch of an eco food innovation, but interesting nonetheless. The first Burrito Box sells hot burritos with 100% natural ingredients for $3 each. According to the company’s website all the ingredients are natural, which means no hormons, no antibiotics and only cage-free eggs. After inserting some coins and sending some intrusion via a touch screen, a hot burrito is dispensed. Side dishes such as Daisy sour cream (50 cents), Tabasco (65 cents), and Wholly Guacamole (75 cents) can be ordered in addition.
Then there’s food company Kagome that has installed a vending machine with fresh tomatoes and tomato-based products in a runner’s sports facility in Tokyo. The machine provides runners with a healthy and nutrition-rich alternative to the more common candy bars. In Tokyo, this development is already going on for quite some years (as everything related to vending machines seems to happen first in the Japanese capital). In 2010, a machine was launched that grows veggies inside and dispenses them to vitamin-loving urbanites. Can you get it more fresh?
Chef’s Farm was initially designed for restaurants and makes it possible to harvest 60 heads of lettuce each day, enabling its owner to recoup the $90,000 investment in about five years. The machine doesn’t use sunlight and earth for the crops to grow, but fluorescent light and nutri-culture beds. The weirdest filling of a vending machine can probably be found in China, where living crabs are sold from a machine — which is a bit creepy, but can it get more fresh? The luxury version of this chique take on healthy food can be found in a shopping mall in LA, where a vending machine filled with caviar, truffles, escargots and mother-of-pearl spoons is installed. Operated by Beverly Hills Caviar, the machines contains about $50,000 (!) worth of products.
On the Dutch country-side the veggie vending machine is an emerging phenomenon. Farmers install a machine right on the edge of their property and the publicly accessible road. Passers-by can buy vegetables and fruits but also eggs or milk from the machine. This way the country-side gets provides with fresh food and the farmers earn a bit of money on the side.
Fresh, a company that has started an international franchise business in healthy vending machine snacks, is probably a boring example compared to the extreme machines mentioned above. All their machines look like any other food-supplying vending machine, but only their products are healthy and fresh. The business, however, says to be a pioneer and innovator in its field, and wants to take it mission seriously: “As the pioneers and innovators of the healthy vending movement, Fresh Healthy Vending is focused on tackling unhealthy eating — not on gimmicks.”