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The Future of the Vending Machine

VendingMachinesThe future role of the vending machine in the midst of our burgeoning coffee-shop culture is a matter of debate. Here, Martin Button looks at how the market, and the functionality of the machines, is changing.

The vending industry has a curious history and there has been vast growth during the long life span of vending machines, from ancient the Greeks dispensing holy water for coins to the fantastic single-serve technology now available in many workplaces. The requirement of the 21st century dictates much of the new-age technology in these machines and the large range of products they now dispense.

The vending machine can easily be taken for granted. Imagine not being able to grab a drink at a train station at any time of the day. Or not being able to start your day in the office with a comforting hot beverage at the click of a button.

In films or TV programmes you will often see a vending machine of some type, highlighting how much its use is taken for granted.

1. The Market A huge part of the vending market is hot drinks, and arguably, this is where we have seen the most growth in terms of both demand and technology. Over the past few years the consumer has changed habits when it comes to purchasing hot drinks; the demand for range and quality is now higher than ever. The continued growth of the coffee shop culture results in employees making taste comparisons with the high-quality drinks they are buying from large chains. This has driven the standard of the office coffee machine to an all-time high. Luxury drinks such as fresh-leaf teas, herbal teas, creamy lattes and even vast ranges of coffees are available at the touch of a but0ton and are very high in quality, taste and equally delivery. The single-serve machine is the office hot drinks machine of choice; this hot drinks delivery method serves the freshest possible drinks straight from airtight foil packaging. It is the simplest to use, the cleanest and the easiest to maintain. As for water machines and dispensers – organisations legally have to provide water facilities for staff and therefore the demand for the machines is very high in the market. If plumbed in, they must be fitted with a water filter. Having a water filter connected between the mains water supply and the machine limits limescale and therefore removes the thin layer of film from the top of the drink.

2. Functionality and Design The basic mechanics of many vending machines are the same as they have been for decades. As the old saying goes, “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and for a great number of machines in the industry this is the case. One of the main changes made to vending machines during the years is the accepted payment methods. In a world where contactless payment cards, bar code readers and even biometric payment methods are becoming the norm, vending machines need to provide a platform to cater to these systems. There is a huge range of payment methods that people opt for and consequently this technology has been dramatically brought forward. This ranges from the basic card or cash payment to background databases with stored biometric details so customers in a school or office can pay with a touch of a finger. The old tried-and-trusted coin cash method is still very much the preferred option. Location is key when installing a vending solution. Having smaller compact machines in separate points of the space instead of one machine in one location creates a number of benefits, for example, convenience to the employee and reduced or no queues. Modern offices and workplaces are becoming incredibly innovative; naturally, the vending industry is duty-bound to meet this demand and supply stylish machines that fit the location. Beautifully sleek, well-lit and clean machines are now entering the market to meet the aesthetic demands of the workplace and many machines are looking futuristic. Machines are adopting subtle blue glows, space-age silvers and professional midnight blacks.

3. Thinking of the world We live in a world that is now recognising products for their environmentally friendly efforts and qualities. This has influenced designers and manufacturers in the vending industry to incorporate improved power consumptions, energy efficient light bulbs and eco-friendly heating processes. New-age machines are being developed with standby modes and other power-saving technologies that not only help the environment but also reduce power consumption and running costs for the owner. Separately, the vending world is becoming very conscious of the product going into the machines. This is far more manageable with hot drinks machines, therefore many drinks supplied for bean-to-cup or single-serve machines are becoming Rainforest Alliance and UTZ Certified. These certifications are committed to improving the lives of farmers, their families and the environment in the developing world and will contribute to solving the complex challenges facing the coffee, tea and cocoa supply chain.

4. The future of vending From our five decades in the industry we have made several predictions for the vending market of the future. We believe the most significant changes will be the use of touchscreen technology. Although already in existence, This technology will become standard across coffee, water and snack machines. Such technology has been revolutionary over the past few years and taken over much to the computing market. It appears to be an obvious and natural progression within the vending industry.

Martin Button, managing director, UK Vending

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