Introduction to Vending Machine
Vending machines have come a long way in terms of the nature and volume of items that can be obtained from them, so much so that the global vending machine industry is now touted to become a USD 7.6 billion market by 2026. However, it is the advent of vending machine into the food and beverages industry more than 100 years ago which denotes a marked delineation in the perception of people for connoting vending machine with “convenience”. What began as an automatic portable dispenser for soda cans and cigarettes, is now omnipresent in offices, hospitals, educational institutions, airports and train stations alike to enhance the “ease of living” for customers not only across metropolitans, but increasingly penetrating into tier 2 and 3 cities as well.
Convenience vs. Nutrition
Due to limited preservation technologies available in the past, lower processing time and higher shelf life, vending machines have traditionally been stocked with run-off-the-mill junk food items which, while conveniently satiating the instant hunger cravings, do not provide substantive nutrition in the long run. Their availability at a fraction of the cost of their healthier counterparts or full-fledged meals, also enhances their appeal. But with the rising consumer awareness about the long term impacts of junk food on health, the tug of war between convenience and nutrition is progressively favouring the latter. The following factors can be attributed to this turnaround in customers’ mindset:-
- Sedentary Lifestyle – With elongated work hours in front of computer screens, overstretched commuting time due to increased traffic on congested roads and more indoor entertainment options, physical activity during the day has decreased for most people. This sedentary lifestyle has led to the onset of conditions like hypertension and diabetes from a very young age in people. To mentally compensate for the lack of physical exercise, more and more people are opting for quick healthy meals at vending machines.
- Expansion of the Middle Class – Considering that a large swathe of India’s population now comes under the “middle class” category, the affordability of healthier products is no longer a concern among households. More often than not, consumers these days turn over the packaging to look at the nutritional information rather than the MRP of the food products.
- Environmentalism – The growing uproar over animal rights and climate change has translated into people consciously opting for vegetarian or vegan diets which, by definition, are perceived to be healthier than their meat-based counterparts.
This paradigm shift towards opting for healthy products has propelled the vending machine business to include healthier choices for their customers. This transformation, however, has not come without its share of challenges.
Bottlenecks in Providing Healthy Food Items in Vending Machines
The biggest concern among the vending machine industry players with regard to healthier food items is the perishability of these products. In a bid to preserve the organic nutrients, the manufacturers limit the usage of chemicals and tend to solely use natural preservatives. While this certainly results in enhanced nutritional benefits for the buyers, it also leads to a smaller selling window for the vendor who, in turn, tries to make up for this limitation by increasing the price of the product.
Although this hike in prices can make up for the opportunity cost of replacing junk food with healthier options, in the event of reduced sales within the shelf-life of the product, the higher prices would also translate into higher losses for the vendor.
This loss will be compounded if we take into account the risk of customers not opting for the product at all due to limited awareness or exposure to the product owing to inefficient promotion in the market. The logistics, manpower and time resources that would be required to replace and dispose of the unsold items would further exacerbate the losses.
How Vendify Can Plug In The Gaps
As a cloud-based IoT SaaS solution that combines both hardware and software, Vendify provides the vendors an ideal vantage point to overcome the aforementioned hiccups and make a smooth transition from “junk to healthy”. While the hardware component of the solution offers compatibility to connect the existing machines to cloud and an interactive touch interface, the software component enables remote management and automation of the entire supply chain, resulting in an increase of operational efficiency by 30%. The following benefits can be accrued from the unique features provided by Vendify in supplying healthy food items:-
- Targeted Advertisement – To get around the risk of customers not finding the healthy options lucrative enough to make the switch, Vendify offers business intelligence inputs in the form of sales analytics based on user behavior coupled with product recommendation based on machine learning algorithms. This can enable the vendors to target advertisements of their products based on each user’s purchase history and preferences, thereby exponentially increasing the chances of selling the products within their shelf life.
- Automated Refill Plans – The logistics app component of Vendify’s solution generates refill plans for the machines based on real-time inventory status of the machines. To ensure that the plans are executed with the same efficiency with which they are created, the app goes a step ahead and provides performance tracking of the refillers by offering route planning and real-time location of delivery personnel. This feature can minimize the operational losses incurred by vendors who can customize the refill plans according to the shelf life of healthy food items.
- Enhanced User Experience – With hardware support for touch displays ranging from 7” to 70” in size, software support for mobile wallet and digital payments, and social support for regional languages, Vendify offers a gratifying and hassle-free user experience which inevitably leads to accelerated sales. What’s more? The same user experience can now be replicated over a dedicated customer app which is also a part of Vendify’s in-house solution.
As the world slowly but surely recovers from disruptions in lifestyles, mobility and occupations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the food vending industry in India is slated for a sharp uptick in its sales and coverage area. In order to comply with the social distancing precautions still in place coupled with the increased adoption of cashless transactions, vending machines are set to replace the cafeterias at public places with a safer and more personal eating experience.
The complete end-to-end technology solution provided by Vendify is available to manage all operations of a vending machine business through cloud-based inventory and logistics management, and can aid this upcoming expansion by healthy food vending enterprises, rendering them more time to focus on their core competency of managing the supply side of these operations.