System must track component dispensing
A carousel-type food machine, on the other hand, with rotating shelves and individual compartments, may be best for marketing pre-assembled meals in clear bags or open boxes. The fact that all meal components are dispensed at once is an important consideration in establishing that all components were provided the student while at the machine.
One guideline suggests that machine-based pre-packaged meal authorization and dispensing should occur at a rate of three meals per minute (a selection every 20 seconds) or faster. Obviously, when the student has the option to custom build to order, the process will inherently be slower and may result in less than one meal being dispensed per minute.
Several advances in vending technology enable the meal machines to communicate alerts, events, and sales information. The fact that temperature conditions may be approaching a harmful level or that the stock of products in the machine require replenishment, and other situations, can automatically be communicated to management through e-mail, text messaging, or audible notification of condition.
Vending helps improve awareness
In addition to actual product dispensing, the vending machine location can also influence sales. The creative placement of meal vending machines in non-traditional locations – outside school cafeteria and foodservice operation areas – can increase awareness and elevate sales.
One company points to its innovative placement of healthy product and meal component vending equipment at the school bus discharge zone.
The encounter of an unattended point-of-sale (POS) device immediately upon arrival at school proved to be successful in expanded merchandising as well as overall sales, especially breakfast product sales.
Point of sale Integration
The software of a school's installed POS system can also be used to accommodate vending machine transactions. With this linkage, the vending machine is treated as another node in a POS network; a seamless integration.
For cashless transactions, the vending machine mounted identification reader can be used for data entry that can be immediately transmitted (cabled via Cat 5 wire or wirelessly using Wi-Fi protocol) to the POS database to obtain user authorization and active student account verification.
Account status is used as a basis for subsequent purchase activity. A completed transaction is processed and stored by the POS software as if it occurred at a cashier terminal. It is possible for the vending machines to operate on a cash basis, with or without student product tracking, depending on whether the identification phase is optional.
Linkage to the POS identification database also establishes a channel for charting, tracking, and monitoring nutritional consumption. The recording of purchased products enables an aggregation of nutrients across a broad spectrum of government eligible products.
Automation of purchase transactions enables a compilation, by individual student, of products purchased, time of day, and product quality.
Dieticians, foodservice administrators, and parents (as well as the student) are able to review consumed product contents and compare them to established benchmarks. In some systems, authorized account access enables the reviewer to set restrictions prohibiting the purchase of items not meeting a nutritional threshold. In this case, the student may attempt to purchase the item, but the machine will have the "smarts" to override or deny the transaction.
With a vending machine acting as an unattended POS terminal, the POS interface relies on a predetermined planogram or product map to interpret what product was selected, given a machine shelf location (column or slot). Not unlike reading a vending machine DEX report, the POS system will not know exactly what product is vended, unless the linkage between the machine shelf location and the item's coordinates in the product map determine what has been dispensed.
The POS database then computes the nutritional value of the product purchased and aggregates these values to the student's personal nutritional profile. This updating allows review of nutritional purchases by the student despite the vending machine's inability to independently provide this data.