Why vending machines are more popular than ever before.

12 Nov 2021

Published in: Member News

Following an article from the BBC, we explore the history of the vending machine and how it has turned into a popular refreshment solution for workplaces.

The BBC shared an article recently on how the vending machine is making a “comeback”. We’re pleased that the benefits of the industry are now becoming a hot topic for all to see, though being a vending machine company ourselves we have always understood its advanced and flexible nature.

Vending is one of the fastest accelerating industries on the market today. Now spurred on further by the Covid-19 pandemic, vending machines provide an unattended retail solution that works brilliantly for so many businesses and environments.

The origins of the vending machine.

It is widely believed that the first vending machine was invented by Hero Alexandria, a Greek engineer and mathematician, in the first century.

The machine took coin payment before dispensing holy water. It was developed to make sure citizens worshipping across numerous temples were not taking more than their fair share of holy water.

When users inserted a coin into the machine, it would land on the pan which was connected to a lever. The weight of the coin would be heavy enough to pull on the lever, enabling the flow of holy water. When the coin dropped off the pan, the lever retracted, and the flow would stop.

Across the 18th century people would catch on to the invention and develop vending machines themselves. There were vending machines that dispensed newspapers, stamps, chewing gum and a whole lot more besides. Some of these were considered to be the first fully automatic vending machines.

Beverage machines that dispensed hot drinks into cups appeared in the early 19th century. From there, the industry continued to develop through bottled drinks and fresh food.

The rise of the vending machine.

Now, today, vending is more advanced than ever. Technological advancements deliver a variety of premium products, from high-quality, reliable equipment and through a collection of modern payment facilities including contactless and biometric.

There are so many benefits of a vending machine. The natural characteristics of a vending machine make them a quick and easy way to source whatever you want, from coffee shop hot drinks to freshly prepared food. In just a few taps or touches your product is vended in less than 30 seconds.

This has always made vending a welcome refreshment solution for fast-paced industries, such as manufacturing sites. Larger environments also identify vending as a great alternative to catering, where they don’t need to employ any additional staff to operate or take control of anything.

Being the innovative vending machine company that we are, we were able to take this idea even further with the introduction of our Micro Market in 2013. This is a self-service convenience designed for the workplace, offering a breadth of items that the customer pays for using an app or terminal.

Having spotted a gap in the market for this kind of solution (we were the first company to introduce it to the UK) it has gone from strength to strength. Automated Micro Markets saw a 367% growth last year.

With higher-quality and broader products appearing, such as fresh bean coffee and vegan/healthier product choices, vending machines and the Micro Market have elevated themselves to become a valuable employee perk well suited to the modern world.

Now more than ever, employee wellness is crucial. Coffee machines, for example, are part of a bigger incentive to promote break times and strengthen working relationships with colleagues, whilst stocking healthier items such as low fat, low calorie and vegan choices encourages a better diet whilst at work. In fact, 2020 alone saw healthier eating from a vending machine rise by 147%.

The icing on the cake from a business perspective is being able to have all these products regularly replenished exactly when they need to be. This is again driven by technology, where central management systems update stock in real time.

Such smart insights, coupled with a steady rise in payment solutions, means the vending machine can now almost replace traditional high street retailing. The ability to have everything you need on site is a great option for both businesses and employees.

Whilst vending has continued to grow, though, the fundamental basis of this facility remains largely the same: you make your selection and wait for it to be dispensed. This has actually helped to foster an additional benefit during the pandemic that perhaps not many people had given much thought to prior: hygiene.

How Covid-19 elevated the vending machine even further.

Covid-19 changed our world in ways nobody had forecasted, and few believe we will encounter again. It raised the issue of health, safety and hygiene and led us to reconsider the things we were doing every single day.

Suddenly, shared touch points were something to fear. Environments so forth had to hastily adapt, and workplaces had to show their staff that they were taking the threat seriously and were committed to protecting their staff. It was here that vending became more attractive than ever before.

A traditional way for employees to stay refreshed on site is often via a bog-standard kitchen kettle. Through the excessive shared touch points required, from touching the kettle to grabbing the milk and sugar, the vending machine was able to provide a much safer solution.

Add in the fact that the whole process of grabbing a hot drink from a vending machine is also quicker, and you reduce the chances of staff congregating together. Coinadrink also distributed free social distancing floor stickers at the height of the pandemic to make the process even easier when using our equipment.

Even the larger on-site refreshment solutions couldn’t compete with the vending industry. Contract catering has typically always been inflexible. Staff must visit at set times to get what they want for their dinner. Again, this forced them to forego social distancing, whilst the idea of additional people attending site to cater to staff wasn’t ideal for a lot of companies during this time.

The Micro Market provided a solution that delivered much more peace of mind, whilst snack and fresh food vending machines offered the same hygiene benefits for smaller sites who perhaps no longer needed larger facilities.

A statement backed up by the Automatic Vending Association reiterated the unwavering belief that vending machines were a safe entity for the provision of food and drink in the workplace, but innovation was again able to take reassurance to the next level.

It wasn’t long into the pandemic that contactless vending machines and equipment appeared. This was designed to reduce the minimal shared touch points to none at all, utilising technology and capabilities such as motion sensing technology and smartphone control.

We then made sure that peace of mind wasn’t just exclusive to new equipment. Coinadrink Limited was one of the first vending machine companies to source Purezone technology for our equipment, an invisible antimicrobial film that inhibits bacteria in real time.

So, the natural characteristics of the vending machine placed it ahead of other refreshment solutions during Covid-19. Then, the innovative nature of the industry took it further, so it become a solution that could always be trusted.

The vending machine today.

With more people and businesses now aware of the benefits of a vending machine as a convenient and hygienic source of quality refreshments, it has asked lots of questions regarding just how flexible this solution is.

Look around online and you’ll find the answer to be “very”.

In many ways it could be argued that the vending machine has now gone full circle. From dispensing more unique products to focusing on more mainstream options such as food and drink, what vending machines can offer today is once again extremely varied.

The article from the BBC highlights a milk vending machine in the Republic of Ireland, set up as an alternative sales channel when Covid forced businesses to close. Coinadrink ourselves have provided milk vending machines in a few of our own personal projects, not to mention taking the time to explore all the other weird and wonderful machines dotted around the world.

Products range from a baguette vending machine in Paris to a live crab vending machine in the Zhejiang district, China.

In truth, though, whilst that shows the scale of what is possible thanks to the flexible nature of vending, what’s more relevant to the UK market is just how much it has adapted to new requirements driven by Covid-19 and, more importantly, helped us to adapt.

The main benefit, as touched on before, is the fact vending machines are totally unattended. This not only benefitted businesses by being able to sell products whilst their doors remained closed, but also benefitted customers through the peace of mind of not needing to encounter anyone.

This also means a vending machine can be placed almost anywhere, including public locations.

Then there’s a product range that has further developed. In 2020, Coinadrink Limited got on board with PPE vending. As you’d naturally expect, this was especially popular with key workers who continued to operate during Covid.

The vending machine provided a safe and secure way to store a multitude of items, from face masks and hand sanitisers to goggles and ear protectors. It was easy to keep track of where stock was going, too, thanks to the user being given their own card tied to their account.

The reality is a vending machine today can be whatever you want it to be. It helps drive a shopping experience that is safer, healthier, more hygienic, and more convenient than ever before.

And that’s why a vending machine is now more popular than ever before.

Submitted by Alistair from Coinadrink Limited
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