Editor's Note: This is the updated and corrected version. The correction was made to the cashless vending section. The word cashless was changed to cash in the following sentence: "The number of cash transactions is expected to drop to 23 percent by 2017."
Vending has always been a customer-oriented industry, offering the public convenient food and beverage options at an affordable price — anytime, anywhere. The industry has evolved over the years from the traditional coin-operated vending machine to unattended micro markets, cashless vending, touch screens and coffee services, to name a few.
So how will the industry continue to evolve in 2013? We asked the experts, and they collectively agree that it must advance by giving customers what they want — including convenience, value and quality.
“When I look at our industry and our three business lines [vending, micro markets and coffee service], I tend to look at it holistically, and think we will remain strong with some growth in 2013,” says Carla Balakgie, president and CEO of the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA). “We are a consumer-oriented industry, so if we give our customers what they want, our businesses will grow. You have to think about where your outlets are placed, what the customer base is, what’s going to sell. There may not be one solution, so diversify your business lines and diversify your product mix within them in order to succeed.”
So what does the customer want? And how can the industry continue to grow? Here are five ways the vending industry can meet today's consumer needs and continue to flourish in 2013:
1. Healthy Choices
Long thought of as machines that only dispense cookies, candy, chips and sugary beverages, vending machines are including a wider variety of product selections following a change in consumer snacking preferences. Global research company, Hartman Group, recently released a snacking report that said 57 percent of Americans rated having healthy snack options as important or very important. Another 2012 research report, by Symphony IRI Group, shows 87 percent of consumers are trying to eat healthier. Many operators have already jumped on the bandwagon of providing healthy options, but in order to stay ahead of the game, the industry as a whole must show it is nutritionally responsible.
“As an industry, we have to take a very proactive role in showing that we are a part of the solution, instead of a ‘devil’ that only offer unhealthy options, especially in special markets such as schools and health care facilities,” said Balakgie. “If we show that we are part of the solution and not the problem, various public and political administrators will see us as an active partner, and will be more likely to support a blended set of offerings that provide consumers what they want, including healthy options.”
Of course there will always be those consumers who would like to purchase a traditional snack, such as chips or a candy bar; however, more and more Americans are becoming health conscious. In order to increase sales, operators should offer a wide variety that includes both healthy and traditional options to ensure a sale every time.
2. Cashless Vending
For years, vending was a coin-operated industry; however, fewer and fewer people carry around cash, or coins, these days — especially the younger generation.
“Cashless payment, enabled currently in less than 5 percent of all vending machines, will continue to grow as vending patron demographics shift,” said Chuck Reed, director, marketing and sales operations support for MEI, a manufacturer of cashless technology. “Generation X and Y consumers are clearly predisposed to carrying less cash and they are demanding alternate payment methods on vending machines. Vending operators will need to accept any form of payment, cash or cashless, in order to compete with retail establishments.”