Micro Market News From NAMA 2018: Through Operators' Eyes

April 9, 2018

Healthy product options, technology and education sessions shined at this year's NAMA show. Operators reported looking for "better-for-you" product options to include in their micro markets. Technology and the new equipment that went along with it also aroused quite a bit of attention, not to mention plenty of education sessions. Topics that provided essential information for those interested in OCS, digital and nutritional trends, technology and more were received by eager listeners.

Most popular on the show floor

The show was abuzz with operators looking to renew their micro market planograms with more natural or healthy items. One Midwest operator indicated that he came to NAMA looking for anything new, but especially better-for-you items, "like the unsweetened or no sugar energy drinks and protein-rich, ready-to-eat meals." This was echoed by other operators as well, which made the entire "better-for-you" section of the show-floor a well-trafficked area. While some operators were looking for more fresh items that they could incorporate into their micro markets without having to go the route of a commissary, others were looking for healthy labels. Some popular labels under the better-for-you category were natural and non-GMO.

Seeing everything first hand, from new technology to new products, was also a plus for operators. A first-time NAMA attendee from the Midwest commented that he enjoyed being able to experience the bigger technology companies' equipment in person, because it gave him a better idea of its capabilities versus an online video or demo. He also found it beneficial to go through the "New Product Zone" at the entrance of the show to get an idea of new products to add to his micro markets.

Hard to get products

There were a couple new ideas at the show that operators thought were innovative and interesting, but had a hard time getting behind. For example, Chowbotics showcased its salad robot, Sally, the very first of its kind. An operator from the Southeast indicated that Sally is a great concept but the price of the machine is a challenge. With a $30,000 price tag and averaging $7 a salad (40 in total), that's more than 100 times an operator would have to refill the machine before recouping the equipment purchase. On the positive side, the machine solves an issue of having fresh products that can be personalized without fear of contamination, something not currently available.

Another benefit of this year's show was a diverse group of distributors. A West coast operator came looking for better-for-you products, especially those from distributors such as Unfi, which specialize in natural and healthier products. He hoped he would be able to find new options not carried by traditional vending distributors. The biggest hurdle is price point, according to this West coast operator. Many distributors or suppliers of healthier items didn't understand that it is difficult for operators to put the same mark up on products sold through a vending machine as those at a retail store.

Benefits of attending the show

Of the operators that came to the show, quite a few attended the educational sessions, and those who didn’t, plan to attend  next year. The education sessions were one of the high points of the show this year, according to an operator from the Southeast, who called them extremely valuable. The content was current and in-line with the types of technology 101 education and forums that the average, small but growing operator needs.

NAMA again provided the opportunity to see the new and exciting additions to the industry in 2018. Operators continue to find it meets their needs for knowledge and success.