Will Calorie Disclosure Be Our Industry’s Y2K Challenge?

The February issue of Automatic Merchandiser provides an update by Managing Editor Emily Refermat on the calorie disclosure rule that was announced last spring (http://tinyurl.com/7bdjutf). While the details of the rule are not final, product and equipment manufacturers have been introducing innovative ways to allow vending operators to communicate nutrition information and other types of information on vending machines.

Vending operators are naturally hopeful that the final rule will not be too cumbersome. At the same time, many operators realize that whatever they are required to do to comply with the regulation, point of sale communication can help make vending machines more appealing to consumers.

In discussing all the video touchscreens that have been demonstrated in the past year, largely in response to calorie disclosure, with a longtime industry colleague, I noted the innovation bears a resemblance to the Y2K issue that gripped American industry in the 1990s. Many of you will remember there was widespread concern that computers were going to experience processing errors when the date changed from 1999 to 2000. I remember attending seminars at industry conventions devoted to this topic.

The concern was so prevalent that entire companies were formed to find ways to ensure computers did not malfunction on Jan. 1, 2000. The research and development that went into this resulted in a lot of innovation that many believe helped sustain the prosperity of the late 1990s and early millennial “tech boom.”

Is calorie disclosure our industry’s Y2K issue?

Just as Y2K concerns drove software innovation, is not calorie disclosure driving significant vending innovation that will boost the vending industry’s public image?

In October of 2009, I wrote a column in Automatic Merchandiser, “Calorie posting mandate could help our image,” claiming that the calorie posting rule will encourage operators to embrace point-of-sale video screens. I don’t think many readers were thrilled to read about pending regulations in 2009 when they were struggling to survive in the early part of the current recession.

Nonetheless, video touchscreens were everywhere at last year’s National Automatic Merchandising Association OneShow, and the enthusiasm on the show floor was fantastic. I have it on good authority that this year’s OneShow will be even more invigorating.

Several of the newer machines from established OEMs have video touchscreens.

Pioneering machines such as the Kraft diji Touch, the Coke Interactive Vendor and The Pepsi Be Social Vending Machine have been updated to provide more engaging customer experiences. The companies are working on ways to make these machines accessible to vending operators.

Then there are the retrofit screens from Vendors Exchange International Inc., VendScreen Inc. and others.

Vending machines have always needed a personal touch to overcome their impersonal character. For most of our industry’s history, operators have relied on personable service people to provide this.

Nowadays, as smart phones and omnipresent digital video screens have given consumers a new way to feel intimate with their physical surroundings, video screens will make vending machines more personal than ever.

In addition, they will make vending machines a point of destination.

 

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