As we finish the last few pages in the book of 2017, it's a good time to reflect on what happened over the year.
A year of acquisitions
The last time I took count, VendingMarketWatch.com had published more than 40 news announcements concerning acquisitions. Among the more salient was the merger of Accent Food Services, based in Pflugerville, TX, and Black Tie Services, based in Baltimore, MD. The companies, miles apart, announced the merger in March 2017 and it was only the beginning, as in September, Accent announced another large acquisition (after many others) of Ace Vending in Phoenix, AZ.
It wasn't just vending operators growing and consolidating, however. Two large technology companies recently became one when USA Technologies bought Cantaloupe Systems for $85 million. Cantaloupe Systems also made headlines early in 2017 when long-time industry advocate Elyssa Allahayar-Steiner left Avanti Markets and started work as the director of marketing for Cantaloupe Systems.
Technology also featured prominently in 2017. Remember the announcement from John Murn about LISA, a vending machine and glass cooler hybrid that he believes will compete with Amazon Go. Actually, Amazon has also been a name reoccurring in the news, from the delay of their unattended retail store to how they are affecting decision makers with the Amazon Mentality. Most recently, Heidi Chico, 2018 chair of NAMA reports that operators should be working to aid Amazon and benefit, rather than compete with the online retailer.
Another big online name that made headlines in 2017 was Google. When it was announced by Vagabond that Google was promoting the vending industry and its efforts to help operators more efficiently schedule routes, operators took notice. Dynamic scheduling, or planning routes based on need and not as a set schedule, has been a popular idea for several years, and with the power of Google behind it, there's much confidence in vending management systems that use Google Maps, of which there are at least two.
Let's not forget the media storm when micro market supplier Three Square Markets announced they would insert microchips into their employees. The coverage went on for weeks with advocates for and opposed to the idea, bringing notoriety to the River Falls, WI-based company.
What will trend in 2018
From what I've seen and heard so far, fickle consumers will continue to ask for healthy items, although there is a wide variation in what that means. That is good and bad for operators. On the one hand, it means that quite a lot of items can be considered healthy, including dried fruit, nuts, gluten-free options, low sugar choices, diet items, low-calorie, protein rich, low carb, etc. On the other side, there is not one definition, but many, which makes meeting the request for healthy a bit of a moving target.
Coffee will continue to be important in the next year, with the ability to make personalized, café style beverages a big plus. It's not just Millennials driving this, but the entire employee population. Coffee and coffee-based drinks are universal. We will delve into this topic in our upcoming February print issue of Automatic Merchandiser.
Finally, the central theme of 2018 will revolve around breakrooms and the employee experience. This trend is feeding the micro market and pantry service segments and shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, last week I wrote about breakrooms and their evolution. I'm honored that an industry veteran, Jim Brinton responded to my blog with comments of his own that began, "I believe your article is spot on!" He believes the industry has the inside track to showing customers we are their breakroom professional. We must push into new areas and not sell our industry short. In conclusion, there is so much to look forward to in 2018. I can't wait to get started.