Vending's Changing Landscape: Technology Driven And Consumer Centric

April 20, 2017

NAMA OneShow 2017 has just begun, but already I'm noticing a theme emerge. From NAMA chair Pat Hagerty's comments about operators needing to be ready to embrace change to products to tempt the changing vending/micro market/OCS consumer, specifically Millennials and the upcoming Generation Z, change is happening. It is expanding the industry beyond offering similar items in all vending machines to  becoming a multi-service provider that leverages technology to provide better customer experience and tailored product selections to each location. 

Change is creativity 

In his remarks to NAMA attendees, Hagerty, CEO of Vistar as well as the NAMA chair, talked about the need to turn challenges into opportunities. He mentioned the rise of employees working from home. This is a challenge, but his message was that there are operators who understand that there is always a way to be "fiercely optimistic." Micro kitchens is an example, one that offers what progressive employers need: services that build comradery and increase productivity. Micro kitchens can help draw employees back into the workplace.   

Operators also need to be aware that the employees they provide refreshment to are changing. Kellogg's Sam Baffes talked about the increase in their desire for snacking, breakfast at work and different taste profiles. Bonnie Knutson, PhD, a professor at Michigan State University spoke to a packed room about the new generation of consumers defined by choice. Nutrition, workplace café design, evolving trends and more were presented all pointing to the fact that it's not business as usual.  

I saw operators stand on stage and tell other operators that a vending management system (VMS) is a must. They shared the return on investment from adding telemetry – not if there is a return, but THE return. Accepting credit cards is being talked about in a similar way as bill validators on vending machines – an option that is swiftly becoming a standard addition to machines instead of a location specific consideration.  

Change is seeing the new 

On the tradeshow floor there are product manufacturers and suppliers offering a new line of healthy products to meet the changing consumer needs as well as the bold and sweet options consumers love. I saw roasted chickpeas, prepacked eggs, all natural energy drinks, electrolyte infused water, shelf-stable waffles infused with syrup, cookies that taste like pastries and much more. Beside them were vending machines, most showcasing screens and custom graphics that were not commonplace when I first started attending NAMA shows 10 years ago. There was also many non-traditional pieces of equipment. Remember the pizza vending machines? It's here. As is a jewelry vending machine/retailer, user verifying via biometric vending machine, frozen drink vendor, automated locker style dispenser, etc.   

When NAMA's CEO Carla Balakgie took the stage on the opening day of the show, she said "It's NAMA's job to peer forward." She believes the industry will need to be empathetic to consumers, ensure delivery of experiences delivered through targeted services with more data driven processes and form strategic, non-traditional partnerships. She sees change on the horizon.  

Change isn't always good, but from what I have seen at the trade show so far, this one will be taken in stride. There is more interest and investment in this industry than ever. Operators are sharing their experience, engaging in inspiring conversations about technology and expansion, looking for business opportunities and overall sharing a passion for this industry. The future is change, but it's an uplifting one.