'Gratitude Tour' marks a whole new beginning

The weather couldn’t have been better. The inaugural Gratitude Tours in Boston and New York City in September, the first of eight in a nationwide series through October, packed ‘em in, non-stop, for hours on end.

The premier event at Boston’s Prudential Center hosted a more Gen Y crowd while the South Street Seaport event in New York drew a more mixed audience.

Both events dazzled consumers with video touchscreens, some with 3-D images of spiraling brand icons, sweepstake contests and nutrition panels.

It has been decades since the vending industry invited the public to view its wares, and given the progress the industry has made in recent years, the Gratitude Tour makes perfect sense.

The name, Gratitude Tour, is intended to convey the industry’s thanks to the public for its patronage. In reality, however, the bigger reward went to the industry itself since the Gratitude Tour gives manufacturers and operators a unique opportunity to witness just how powerful their products and services have become.

Welcoming attendees at entrance points were Fastcorp snack machines inviting them to “push my buttons to get free stuff.”

Standing like giant smart phones at the main entrance were the mascot machines of vending’s new era: the Coke Interactive Vendor, The Pepsi Be Social machine and the Kraft Diji Touch machine, beckoning attendees to touch the graphic icons and engage in a whole new interactive experience. Consumers of all ages marveled at being able to call up nutrition information on a touch screen.

There were, in addition to the machines mentioned above, the Canteen 2bU machine, a beverage/snack glassfront with LCD screen that carries product that is locally sourced, organic, all natural, vegan, gluten-free or kosher; the PepsiCo Dream machine that recycles containers and offers reward points; the Seattle’s Best Coffee machine that brings a well known specialty coffee to vending; self checkout kiosks; and more.

Free product was offered for the grabbing at tables, but that didn’t stop people from standing in line in front of machines to push selection buttons, send social media messages, upload photos of favorite products and earn reward points.

Industry salespeople dressed in custom designed Gratitude Tour shirts relished the chance to explain the features and benefits.

Forward thinking operators attended to see consumers’ reactions to these marvels.

The goal of the event, according to the organizers, is to create buzz. And that it did.

But vending is about value, and that it delivered.

The greatest value delivered was to the industry since the activity allowed industry members to fully grasp what their trade has become.

The Gratitude Tour, a part of the NAMA industry growth strategy, is an experience that, if preserved in attendees’ minds, will drive automatic merchandising to a whole new height in customer appreciation.

It’s now up to the vending industry to make it happen.