Where we stand

Dec. 17, 2014

I’m going to do something I rarely do. I’m going to delve into the past.  I looked back 10 years, to the December 2004 issue of Automatic Merchandiser. Top of mind for the editor at that time was “blue sky” business opportunities darkening the reputation of the vending industry, supporting the health initiatives in communities or schools and a whitepaper on launching in cashless vending. 

It’s interesting how much, or how little, a decade has changed things. Cashless vending is still a growing segment within vending, perhaps even more so as the smartphone started gaining a global presence around 2006. Mobile payment options are the newest piece of the non-cash payment evolution. In April of this year, there were no less than six companies exhibiting mobile payment options at the NAMA OneShow. These weren’t just card readers that accepted near field communication (NFC) payments in addition to credit and debit cards. These options allowed operators to retrofit the vending machine with hardware that enables payment via a mobile device and offers benefits to both consumers and the vendor. To help demystify the mobile offerings we have a chart on page XX that offers a glimpse into current machine level mobile payments. In the article preceding the chart is a discussion about the mobile payment movement and different thoughts on how it will evolve in the future.

Health and wellness

While in 2004 there were certainly fad diets and community health initiatives, I would say that year was part of the upswing into today’s obsession with labeling food. In the following year, 2005, NAMA created Balanced For Life, a program to help vending operators support nutrition education initiatives proactively. The FitPick® healthy vending program grew out of Balanced for Life and in 2014, FitPick was revamped to include FitPick Select for products that meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in School restrictions. Just this past month, the Food and Drug Administration finalized the rule stipulating how and where vending operators with 20 or more machines need to provide calorie information to the consumer about the products they offer before a purchase is made.

More and more locations are signing agreements for vending equipment with targeted healthy graphics and brands to meet that consumer demand. It’s a best-selling category in the micro market service model. The evidence is mounting, health and wellness are going to be headlines for a while yet.  

I would say that the least talked about issue is the blue sky biz op scams, which seem to have receded to the level of other industries. There are still reports of these franchises and also of the criminals behind them being prosecuted, but technology and wellness are the top issues of the year.

Technology is the answer

Change happens in the face of challenges. We all know the challenges, so how can we change? The biggest difference can be made by investing in technology and taking time to learn how to use these new systems to operate more efficiently. This will produce better margins.

It’s also time to come together and pool resources to promote ourselves from the food retailer of last resort to the forefront. That is what many of the professionals in our industry try to do on a daily basis, which is why this issue is dedicated to them – our first Pros To Know awards. Our overall winners, Jeff Whitacre of USConnect and Food Express, and the Cantaloupe Systems Team, show that there is still positive change happening in the industry. They aren’t ready to give up on vending despite it being a different business than it was in the 1990s. Read about the leaders in our industry starting on page XX and end this year on an optimistic note.