New Combination Machines Improve Versatility, Including Food in Smaller Locations

Thinking about investing in new equipment this year? With populations and customer demands changing faster than ever, versatility ranks high on many vending operators' list of considerations. Many of the new glassfront combination machines address the need for greater variety in smaller locations.

New units offer more versatility

Combo machines are not new. What's new is the versatility that some machines are offering. An operator can buy a machine configured to vend cold beverages and, with some adjustments, turn it into a combination snack and beverage machine.

Some of today's new glassfronts offer perishable food, cold beverages and candy and snacks.

Locations that are not large enough to support food machines in addition to beverage and snack machines continue to ask for food. This article will address combo machines that do not use separate openings for different product groups.

In situations where both ambient and refrigerated products are in the same machine, operators have to pay attention to how much time it takes for the machine to cool down the ambient product. There are other operational issues as well. When there are products with different shelf life in a machine, it becomes harder to know the most opportune time to service the machine.

Nevertheless, many operators are finding a need for more versatile machines that will allow them to vend a greater product variety.

Darren McKeever, who operates McKeever Vending in Watertown, S.D., serves a lot of locations that are somewhat isolated and don't have an abundance of meal choices. He has placed combination food, snack and beverage glassfronts in accounts with less than 80 people.

Faster cool-down time arrives

McKeever recently began using a food/bottle/snack combo machine from National Vendors that offers faster cool-down time than the combo he was previously using. This allows the machine to be filled faster.

Machines with health timers will automatically shut down after a set time period if they are open for too long, or if ambient product, such as soda, is put in the machine and the machine does not cool down within that period. The new Refreshment Center 1 from National Vendors has a compressor that will cool the machine faster than many other machines.

Food in smaller locations
Versatility is important to McKeever because a lot of marginal accounts ask for food. With the combo machine, he can let the location have food on a test basis. If it isn't profitable, he can replace food with snacks.

"It (the combo) can get you just about any location," McKeever said."It's a great selling tool."

Some of the newer models allow operators to add temperature sensitive products as needed by the account. If the account's needs change, the operator can reconfigure the machine.

Randy Seright, owner of Seright Vending in El Reno, Okla., likes the first-in, first-out feature of the Refreshment Center 1 because the machine always looks full and, because he can have ambient products in addition to food, there is less waste. "It actually works at a low volume account that still requires food," he said.

"Now it is possible to vend fresh food, bottled beverages, snacks and candy within the four walls of a single machine for the smaller account sizes of the service industry," said Steve Harkins, director of national accounts at National Vendors.

"Specific feature capabilities that are unique to the Refreshment Center 1 include the ability to field configure the health and safety operating mode. Operators can choose to operate with or without NAMA health and safety control, depending on product requirements. This feature provides the flexibility to tailor the operating mode to ever-changing account circumstances."

Call for healthier products

The need for healthier products has also played into the rising need for machines that can offer different types of products.

Joel Sachs, president of M&P Vending Inc., Chicago, found the Stonyfield Farm branded machine a cost-effective tool to meet the demand for healthier products at one of his school accounts. The machine keeps the temperature at about 40 degrees F and offers juice, snacks, nutrition bars and yogurt, the latter item priced at $1.50.

Stonyfield Farm allows him to lease the machine. When the lease term expires, he is confident that the location will review the results and agree to make changes that he suggests."Parents see that you're trying," he said.

Versatility becomes more important

"Where a machine goes initially isn't where it's going to be for the rest of its life," said Todd Elliott, co-owner of Tomdra Vending Inc., Tucson, Ariz. "The more options you have, the better." He has placed a spiral-driven, AMS Visi Combo in schools featuring snacks on the top three shelves and milk on the bottom two. The same machine offers soda and snacks in hospital accounts.

For Elliott, this machine allows him to get the extra revenue from these products without investing in a dedicated snack vender plus a dedicated beverage machine. This is an excellent choice for satellite break areas.

Randolph Sheppard of Wisconsin, which manages the services for the state's blind agencies, has used a GPL 480 glassfront machine to offer soda and snacks in post office annexes that are not large enough to justify a dedicated beverage machine and a dedicated snack vender, noted Kent Walser, manager of business development for the Madison, Wis.-based agency.

Walser noted that this machine is not a great revenue generator, but it is profitable, and it allows him to satisfy a customer that also has some larger facilities. "We have their main facility, which is a very good location," he said.

Reftrofit trays offer options

Dixie Narco Inc. recently introduced retrofit trays that convert the BeverageMax glassfront machine into a combination snack/soda or food/beverage machine. The kit includes a wide five-motor tray or a narrow 10-motor tray, a new master harness and an e-prom. Different size spirals are available to accommodate different packages. There is also a health timer.

Ann Marie-Kohlhepp, national accounts manager at Dixie Narco, said there is a big demand for milk and yogurt in many accounts today. "Anything can go in there except for something that has to be frozen," she said. Dixie Narco will offer machines with the trays already installed under the name, Entray.

Tom Hutchison, Western regional sales and marketing manager at Mountain Coin Machine Distributors Inc., based in Phoenix, Ariz., said the new Dixie Narco machine allows the operator to take advantage of the benefits of the glassfront beverage merchandiser without the difficulties many have encountered.

Everyone agrees the glassfront machine merchandises better than a closed front machine, but Hutchison noted that with 45 facings, many have found it hard to find enough beverage variety. "I think it's going to breathe new life into quite a few locations," he said. "It's almost like a c-store."

Meeting requests for food

"They're always asking for food in these smaller accounts," said Bob Daubach, St. Louis, Mo. territory salesman for Columbus, Ohio-based Shaffer Distributing Inc., who sees the new Dixie Narco machine as a solution for the account with 75 to 100 people. He has tested the newly configured Dixie Narco machine in different locations. One has 10 sandwich rows and three bottle rows (including milk, soda and juice). There were no temperature control problems.

More players enter the market

The VS4000 glassfront beverage machine from Seaga Manufacturing Inc. is another merchandiser that has a health timer and versatile shelving that enables it to offer milk, yogurt, shelf stable soup, fruit, and other non-perishable food items in addition to beverages. "It's getting close to being a food machine," said Dave Bowersox, national sales manager for the company's Vendtronics division.

Bowersox said the company does not recommend that sandwiches be put in the machine, and because the machine is not coil driven, he does not recommend candy or snacks. The machine does have vertical adjustable shelves, allowing it to vend most size and shape beverage packages, in addition to many nonperishable food items.

Cool-down time depends on how much ambient product is being filled, he said, what temperature the product is transported at, and what the temperature is at the location.

A key benefit is also the speed by which the machine can be serviced, thanks to the slide-out trays and rear dispensing. The rear dispensing mechanism also rotates the shelves automatically.

Dual zone offers new benefits

Dual zone temperature machines address both the cool-down issue and the need to keep ambient products ambient. Wurlitzer USA has its Smart Waiter system. National Vendors has the Refreshment Center 1. GPL has the 480. U-Select-It Corp. plans to introduce a dual zone machine soon, and other manufacturers are studying the concept.

"It (the dual zone machine) expands your offerings and you don't have to get into another refrigerated machine," said Mike Lawlor, president of Apex Vending Services in Paoli, Pa., near Philadelphia. A one-route operation, Lawler doesn't plan to have any traditional refrigerated food machines. He will only be using dual zone machines for food.

Service issues noted

Lawlor doesn't discount the operational challenges that combo machines present. "You're going to have some operational issues keeping your beverages in stock," he said.

Craig Kushner, owner of Monumental Vending Inc., Beltsville, Md., sees the Refreshment Center 1 with dual temperature zones as a big improvement in glassfront combination machines.

No more resetting the timer twice

The biggest benefit for Kushner is the simplicity and time savings this machine offers. His previous combo glassfront required the driver to first open the combo machine, reset the health timer, then fill the other machines at the bank, then close and reopen and reset the health timer again. The double resetting was needed in order to give the machine extra time to cool down.

The dual zone machine eliminates the double opening and timer resetting completely, Kushner said.

In most of his locations, the combo machine serves food and alternative beverages, such as noncarbonated drinks. "It allows us to broaden our beverage selection," he said. The combo is an add-on in all locations.

New concepts meet today's market

"The whole machine doesn't have to be 41 degrees," said Jerry Horan, sales manager for vending at Atlas Distributing International, an equipment distributor in Wood Dale, Ill. "If you don't want your snacks getting that cold, the GPL 480 machine can be an answer for you."

"It allows you to configure a single machine into multiple types of machines," said Roy Taylor, director of GPL. "It could be a food machine, and if you lose that location, it could be a snack machine in another location. It's four or five machines in one."

Taylor said this flexibility is important given the prevalence of small locations in today's vending market. "The market is growing as locations continually downsize. In many locations, operators can't afford to put in multiple machines."

In addition to this, he said, operators should consider the benefit of adding small locations to existing routes. This improves "route density," allowing for greater route profitability.

New concepts are more versatile

Kurk Johnson, vending sales manager at Viking Vending Inc., the Minneapolis, Minn.-based equipment distributor, said the new combo glassfronts, including the GPL 480, are all more versatile than the earlier generation of combination machines, most of which had separate openings for different types of products.

In U-Select-It Corp.'s upcoming dual zone machine, the lower two rows are separated by insulating air curtains, and there is a health timer in the circuit board. A rotary blower system and an adjustable air flow damper allow the operator to modify the temperature. The machine can also be converted to single zone.

"The big, blue collar factories just aren't there any more," said Mike Frye, national sales manager at U-Select-It Corp.

Jimm Vending, a one-route operation in Anaheim, Calif., uses the Smart Waiter elevator delivery system from Wurlitzer USA to vend all types of products. The machine accommodates any type of package, noted Mary Arteaga, co-owner, including the tall, thin Red Bull energy drink. Jimm Vending vends fresh food, cold food, milk, juice and energy drinks in the machine, and has never had any temperature control issues.

Arteaga said she likes the fact that the machine has greater capacity than most glassfront food machines, and is easy for the customer to operate.

Reservations persist

Some operators raise the same objection to these new combo concepts that have kept earlier combo units from becoming commonplace: operational inefficiency.

"It's going to be an awfully low volume account, and you're going to have to service it more often," said Dale Lund, operations manager at Theisen Vending in Minneapolis, Minn. He sees this as a concept for the very small operator. "It just wouldn't work for us," he said.

Some operators are discouraged by experiences with older combo machines. "What it does is dramatically restrict your variety of both snacks and soda," said Stan Glassco, general manager of Don's Vending in Livonia, Mich. "When you restrict your capacity and variety, you reduce your sales."

Glassco said it makes more sense to put in full size machines and service them less often. "If they gave you the machine for free, you're worse off taking those locations," he said. "The answer isn't to reduce the capacity of your equipment but to lose the labor."

Glassco said the equipment cost represents only about 5 percent of the total cost of doing business while the labor accounts for 20 percent. "You should address the savings in the biggest expense category."

With the marketplace moving to smaller locations, vending operators are finding a greater need for more
versatile equipment. As operators begin to work with these new systems, they will develop new operating models to provide optimum service frequency.

For more information, contact:

Automatic Products International, ltd., 800-523-8363
Automated Merchandising Systems, 304-725-6921
Dixie Narco Inc., 800-688-9090
GPL, Division of Crane Co. 314-298-3522
National Vendors, Division of Crane Co. 800-325-8811
Savamco Manufacturing/FRD, 800-373-7789
Seaga Manufacturing, 815-297-9500
Vendo Co., 800-344-7216
U-Select-It Corp., 800-247-8709
Wurlitzer USA, 800-987-5480