Fresh, frozen and healthy options for vending and micro markets

Aug. 16, 2023
Consumer preferences continue to shift toward fresh, frozen and healthier options, and today, customers are increasingly willing to pay more for high-quality foods.

Food sales by convenience services operators are showing another year of improvement, and fresh food in micro markets is gaining more acceptance. Today, clients are increasingly willing to pay more for high-quality foods.

Fresh food suppliers

One option for operators is to use local commissaries that deliver daily and to explore local partnerships with well-known brands within their area and on the regional scale. To provide quality fresh food, a strong relationship with local food suppliers is important. Equally important is that each location requires careful analysis to determine the right mix.

Operators report that some locations are insistent about the availability of fresh food for their employees and, in some cases, are willing to subsidize the spoilage. Often, support comes from a cooperative relationship between the operator and the client.

Healthy meal vending

Chicago-based Farmer’s Fridge offers refrigerated vending machines that dispense salads, wraps and snacks made with high-quality and often local ingredients. Fridges are temperature-controlled and stocked with a variety of meals and snacks. Customers tap the screen to start browsing through the menu, and can click the image to view its description, dietary restrictions, nutritional facts and the full list of ingredients. Once the item has been selected, the customer views the cart and checks out by simply swiping their card. The Fridge will then vend the meal within seconds. Customers can also recycle empty jars back into the Fridge or toss them in a recycling bin. Recently celebrating its 10-year anniversary, today, Farmer’s Fridge has more than 600 of its Fridges in the U.S. in airports, hospitals, office buildings and universities.

Frozen treats segment

Automatic Merchandiser’s recent State of the Industry report showed that ice cream and frozen products increased in 2022 from $0.3 billion to $0.6 billion in revenue for combined vended and micro market segments. Mars, a leader in the ice cream category, recently announced its ambition to grow Mars Ice Cream business to $1 billion by 2030. Mars holds several top-selling products in the U.S. frozen novelty category including Snickers Ice Cream Bars, M&M’s Ice Cream Sandwiches, Twix Ice Cream, and Kind Frozen treats. Reaching $1 billion in sales would place Mars Ice Cream among the company’s 12 other billion-dollar brands. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global ice cream market is projected to hit $104.96 billion by 2029, up from $73.62 billion.

“At Mars, we see an opportunity to grow our ice cream business not only in North America, but around the globe,” Anton Vincent, president at Mars Wrigley North America and head of Mars Ice Cream globally, said in the company announcement. “We’re innovating with a focus on product and purpose and expanding our global manufacturing capabilities to ensure we can meet rapidly rising consumer demand.”

Wells Enterprises also offers a range of frozen treats for the vending and micro market channel with ice cream brands Blue Bunny, Blue Ribbon Classics, Bomb Pop and Halo Top. Wells Enterprises was recently purchased by Ferrero. The acquisition was part of Ferrero’s strategic growth ambitions for the ice cream category and Wells’ vision for accelerated growth, bringing ice cream and confectionery leaders together, according to the acquisition announcement.

Variety is key: Pairing better-for-you options with indulgent sweets

Mike Fromme, senior vice president, foodservice sales, Flowers Foods, said the company is seeing consumers’ desire for more variety and a strong sense of brand loyalty. Additionally, consumers continue to seek products with recognizable package callouts, such as verified non-GMO, whole grain stamps, and USDA-certified organic.

“The demand for better-for-you items has increased consistently over the last 10 years, but they perform best when merchandised in conjunction with indulgent items,” Fromme said. “Ultimately, the goal should be to create an offering that appeals to multiple consumer demographics, thus drawing the maximum number of workplace consumers into the market or breakroom.” Flowers Foods offers a vast variety of products in individually wrapped packaging with portion sizes that meet the demand of its convenience services consumers. Its snack cakes and pastries include brand names such as Mrs. Freshley’s, Mrs. Freshley’s Deluxe, Tastykake, and, most recently, Dave’s Killer Bread Snack Bars, to the convenience services channel.

“Most of these products are offered in both fresh and freeze-on-arrival varieties,” Fromme said. “Once on shelf, the challenge is to motivate consumers to purchase. The Tastykake brand recently underwent a packaging refresh, which is designed to stand out on shelf through appetite appeal and a strong brand block.”

Its new Dipp’n Sticks recently launched in two trending flavors: lemon blueberry and chocolate. “Dipp’n Sticks keep the iconic donut stick shape, which is ideal for on-the-go enjoyment, but also bring excitement and news to the donut and donut stick categories through unique flavors,” Fromme added.

Equipment and technology

Equipment manufacturers are keeping up with consumer demands by offering a range of solutions to store fresh and frozen foods. For example, Fastcorp offers both ice cream vending machines as well as ultra-frozen machines for cryogenically frozen products. Fastcorp provides frozen technology used by ice cream manufacturers for their branded machine programs. Configurations are offered with touchscreens, live displays and media players. It also offers versatile machines combining frozen and fresh storage.

Selfly Store, a Finnish company that develops and manufactures self-service technologies, offers a range of intelligent cabinets for storing either ambient, refrigerated or frozen meals and snacks in a range of locations, such as hotels or offices. The cabinets use RFID, sensor, cloud computing and IoT technologies to provide a convenient grab-and-go shopping experience for consumers. Selfly Store’s RFID technology helps keep track of expiration dates and inventory in real time to help avoid food waste.

Also, U-Select-It (USI), a global vending solutions provider based in Des Moines, Iowa, recently announced the addition of Scan & Go Market to its family of products. Featuring a fast and easy self-checkout experience for consumers, USI’s Scan & Go Market allows operators to stock a variety of in-demand, high-margin fresh food, beverages and snacks in one solution.

Whether it’s providing fresh foods, frozen treats or flavorful snacks, meeting the needs of the consumer while making operations more efficient can help operators stay competitive. ■

About the Author

Molly Rogers | Editor-in-Chief

Molly Rogers was the editor-in-chief of Automatic Merchandiser and, bringing 20 years of experience in custom publishing, B2B and B2C magazines, as well as advertising and marketing. She is dedicated to serving readers by covering the latest news in the vending, office coffee service and micro market industry and helping companies connect to their audiences through strong editorial solutions. Molly is based in Birmingham, Alabama, and she can be reached at [email protected] or (205) 409-0843.


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