Once upon a time, vending machines offered a short list of items. They were symbols of modern convenience, found in empty spaces, such as hallways, train stations, airports, and other transient places. Now times have changed, and an entirely new playing field has emerged.
Let’s dive into some examples of the many fascinating types of vending machines found in the world today.
For some, purchasing luxury goods from an automated robotic system makes the transaction even more fun. This play on a traditional retail setting allows for a mixture of convenience and decadence, bringing a playful edge to the goods on display.
Though it may not be a luxury brand per say, Uniqlo is highly respected as one of the top selling clothing brands in the world. Designed in Japan, Uniqlo has established its place in the global market by creating what the company calls, “LifeWear,” accessible everyday clothing meant for all people and situations.
In recent years, the company expanded its marketing strategy by creating Uniqlo To Go machines. These vending machine kiosks, which are stationed in airports, are a cute and clever way to expand the Uniqlo franchise. The brand’s most popular items, such as Heattech t-shirts and Ultra Light down jackets, are now available to travelers on-the-go, combining convenience with effortless style.
Another surprising luxury item that can be purchased via vending machines is the gourmet Russian-French tea brand, Kusmi, which boasts a vast selection of gourmet tea blends with romantic names like Prince Vladimir, Anastasia, and Happy Mind. Kusmi has its own vending machines stationed in Paris, some of which are actually shaped like the brand’s customary keepsake metal tins.
Calvin Klein made shopping for undergarments all the more effortless when it installed vending machines in shopping malls throughout the U.S. There’s something so decadent about picking up a fresh pair of shorts at a vending machine, a concept that was likely inspired by automated systems in Japan, or perhaps by the popularity of I hate Monday socks being sold at kiosks in South Korea.
The beauty and makeup franchise Sephora also joined the vending machine craze when it installed automated machines at airports in the U.S., as did the companies, Benefit, Mac, and Essie. It seems that with the convenience of automated services, with their profound accessibility and lack of need for manpower, even beauty can become a matter of convenience.
If you think that purchasing luxury goods like lipstick and gourmet tea from a vending machine is an awe-inspiring prospect, then imagine how wild it would feel to buy a car via this same mechanism.
In Japan, purchasing a car from a vending machine is not just some futuristic dream. For the Japanese, vending machines for cars are commonplace, as are complex vending machine parking lots, referred to as APS, or Automated Parking Systems, which have been in existence in Japan since the early 1960s.
In Singapore, car vending machines are taken to a whole new level of elegance. A perfect model of glorious ingenuity is the Autobahn Motors building in Singapore, where a massive, neon-lit tower showcases a fantasy of shiny new cars just waiting to get out on the road.
In China, car vending machines are put to a more practical and ecologically minded use. Kandi, a system first utilized in the city of Hangzhou, was inspired by a bike-sharing system, taking the initial concept to the next level. Kandi allows people to choose a car from a multi-story building, which is in essence a large-scale vending machine that provides users with tiny, two-person electric vehicles.
For a mere $3.25 an hour, drivers can rent these cars for far less than what it would cost them to travel the city by taxi. Kandi is good for the atmosphere, as well as for your pocket.
It wasn’t long ago that purchasing technological accessories required a trip to a specialty store, however, in recent years, things have changed. Thanks to kiosks that carry digital accouterments, much-needed last-minute items, such as phone chargers and headphones, are within reach, perfect for travelers on the go.
Zoom Systems (not to be confused with Zoom) was one of the first American companies to bring Apple products to the world of vending. As early as 2005, the company began to include iPods in their cashless machines (or what they then referred to as “robotic product delivery systems”) at Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
Zoom System’s strategy was to carry a multitude of convenience items, such as iPods and snacks. This move would lead Zoom to partner with Best Buy and other non-tech companies, such as Nespresso and Proactiv skincare.
You would think that a romantic stroll taken behind the Pantheon, stopping to devour a pizza Margherita in the nearby neighborhood, would be enough to satisfy any Roman foodie on the go. However, the recent installation of the Mr. Go Pizza vending machine is a challenge to the status quo, and an attempt to revolutionize the Italian food scene.
Pizza margherita can be traced back to a Neapolitan style of pizza invented by chef and restaurateur Raffaele Esposito in the 19th century. Prior to this, pizza was the equivalent of today’s fast food, as it was affordable, simple, and easy to make. However, when Esposito was asked to prepare something special to mark the occasion of a stately visit by Marguerita of Savoy, everything changed. He used basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella to signify the colors of a newly united Italian flag, and a delicious traditional dish was born.
With this history in mind, one might understand how the contrast between a revered culinary practice and the Mr. Go Pizza machine could be a bit striking. The machine offers four kinds of pizza costing between $5.20-$7.20, all of which are made inside the actual machine. And even though a Mr. Go Pizza machine might be a sensible solution in these uncertain pandemic times (after all, cities such as Rome have recently experienced strict lockdown policies and curfews), consumers agree that the quirky and adventuress Mr. Go machine makes pizza that simply cannot compare to the real thing.
Supermarket Without Checkout Lines
It is true that in many ways the Covid pandemic has accelerated the integration of automated services into our lives. Nine years ago, when the British grocery conglomerate, Tesco introduced a virtual store at London’s Gatwick airport, it was seen as revolutionary. Less than ten years later, most consumers in the Western world think nothing unusual of ordering their groceries online.
As a result, it isn’t any wonder that numerous businesses have branched out to offer contactless specialty grocery services.
You may think that fresh meat should only be purchased at a specialized butcher or local grocery store, but New York State-based Applestone Meat Company begs to differ. Applestone keeps their machines supplied with sausage, lamb, beef, and pork, and, according to business headquarters, this automated service has been extremely successful. Unfortunately, as of July, Applestone has decided to shut their business, stating that it was no longer feasible to maintain the standard of service that they were known for.
Another place where you can buy your groceries without forfeiting quality is at the Glaum’s Ranch vending machines in Aptos, California. Glaum’s Ranch offers cage-free eggs through a vending machine, where $4 will give you 18 eggs, as well as a song and dance from a chorus of festively dressed robotic chickens.
Meanwhile, if you really want to live adventurously, you may decide to cook dinner using live hairy crabs purchased from a vending machine in a subway station in Nanjing, China. These crabs are available in the autumn months and are often sold alongside little side dishes of crab vinegar, and bags of ginger tea.
Food for the Soul
Although vending machines generally bring to mind snacks and drinks, there is no reason to exclude books and crafts from the world of automated systems. Though books and art may not be exactly what you would consider to be convenience items, they are necessary pleasures in a consumerist world.
If you’re looking for the embodiment of innovation and fun, look no further than twenty-four-year-old crochet artist-to-the stars Emani Outterbridge’s hot pink Philly-based vending machine, which is filled with colorful yarn. Outterbridge, who has placed the machine inside of a barbershop, has stocked her newest creation with 500 balls of yarn.
Vending Machines that carry libraries for school children are yet another innovation in the world of automated self-service systems. Unlike in a retail space, these books are “purchased” using tokens distributed to students as rewards for their good behavior or outstanding work.
Another small and innovative use of the vending machine as a delivery system for art is the Short Story Dispenser, created by French publisher, Short Édition. The concept for this machine is that the publisher collects fiction gathered through short-story writing contests, and then distributes it through tiny machines. The stories are free and can be chosen according to the amount of time they take to read. Apparently, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola loved the idea so much that he purchased a machine and placed it in his Café Zoetrope, in Northern California.
Though we all love to partake in pre-packaged vending machine snacks, most chips and candy bars contain no nutritional value. Yet for many Americans, these are the foods that are often most readily available. One of the best ways to improve the quality of available food choices is the introduction of healthy vending machine options, especially in American schools and food deserts.
The most commonly used “healthy snack” machine is a healthy combo machine, which offers a mixture of traditional convenience snack items, along with more health-conscious chips and nutrient-dense options, such as granola bars, nuts, and dried fruit.
The UK-based Vegan Vend is the perfect example of an upscale gourmet vegan vending machine, created with those who eat an exclusively vegan diet in mind. There are no combo options here. The offerings include artisanal sandwiches on millet seed bread, sweet potato pakoras, and tempting desserts.
Farmer’s Fridge is a revolutionary take on the traditional vending machine system. Offering thoughtfully prepared salads, sandwiches, protein bites, and healthy drink options, Farmer’s Fridge may very well be the next step in health-conscious automated self-service systems.
First aid essentials are a perfect fit for vending machine systems. After all, if there is any product that deserves to be made readily available, it is life-saving medicine, bandages, and the like. Nobody benefits more from this type of automated system than a disoriented traveler, struggling to communicate in a foreign country.
South Korea is at the forefront of such first aid kiosks. In fact, in 2016, the Ministry of Health and Welfare proposed to allow pharmacies to install vending machines with the hope of making supplies readily available to the public.
In Seoul, Korea, emergency supply vending machines have become commonplace. Located in most train stations, as well as outside public restrooms, these machines carry bandages, tissues, vitamins, mouthwash, gum, and sanitary napkins.
Since 2020, a need for personal protection equipment (PPE) has overwhelmed us globally. This demand has inspired companies around the world to create PPE vending machines to help satisfy this mass demand.
PPE vending machines are a one-stop shop for all of your pandemic needs. Supplies include masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer. PPE kiosks are yet another ingenious solution for a society avoiding personal contact, as well as for travelers in need of supplies. These kiosks can be found at many major airports, such as LAX, in Los Angeles.
If you think that Farmer’s Fridge is an exciting new innovation in vending machine technology, then just take a look at Chef’s Farm, the Japanese lettuce-growing system. Installed with 40-watt fluorescent lighting that enables plants to grow without sunlight, Chef’s Farm offers green veggies in an ever-changing world, one where a vision of indoor gardening is slowly becoming a reality.
Placed on narrow metal frames, Chef’s Farm has what Dentsu, the company’s developers, refer to as “nutri-culture” beds, where the lettuce seeds are planted in sponges. The combination of engineered lighting with a specially formulated culture solution, as well as targeted temperature control, allows the garden to produce up to five types of plants.
Yielding 60 heads of lettuce per day, and more than 20,000 per year, this automated garden marries nature with technology in an aesthetically pleasing display, taking the concept of vending machines to a whole new level.
Big in Japan
In our modern world, Japan stands out as a beacon of innovation. With its towering buildings, its high-speed trains, high tech lightweight textiles, and cutting-edge robotics, it’s no wonder that Japan is home to some of the world’s most fascinating vending machines.
Not only is Japan on the cutting edge of the automated self-service industry, but it also has the highest density of vending machines in the world, with one for every 23 people, and more than five million machines in total.
From ice cream, to beer, soda, crepes, and popcorn, there are few items not available at vending machines in Japan. You can buy coke in different sizes (but for the same price), frozen coke, soup stock, socks shaped like sushi, underwear in a can, sake, flowers, perfectly soft-boiled eggs, and even bras. Protective hygiene masks, ties, and testing kits for Covid, are just some of the other fascinating items on offer.
One of the most unusual self-service systems in Japan is the puppy dog vending machine. These machines allow you to choose from a selection of adorable puppies, each one nestled inside of a little glass cubicle. All of the dogs are positioned right before your eyes, just waiting to be taken home and loved.
It seems that there is no limit to the Japanese imagination when it comes to robotics and automated services, to the extent that in Japan, vending machines are simply part of the lay of the land. For in the world of automated systems, the possibilities are infinite, which can only make one wonder, what kind of vending machine will be next?
Wishes in Japan
The popularity of the self-service industry in Japan only proves that vending machines are perfectly suited to our ever-developing modern world. And yet there is one unexpected type of vending machine that beautifully ties the modern world to the ways of the past.
In Japanese culture, the practice of Buddhism dates back to the sixth century, and the Shinto religion, also an Eastern practice, stretches nearly as far back as Buddhism. For several centuries, Shinto has held center stage as the primary religion in Japan.
For those longing for this type of spiritual connection, there is a vending machine for that. Just as many Western airports offer small chapels where one can say a prayer prior to their trip, Haneda airport, in Japan, provides a vending machine shrine. Here you can purchase an Ema, or a small wooden plaque, engraved with a prayer or a wish, yet another interesting twist on the vending machine system.
Almost like entering a “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” dream world of adults, vending machines have the ability to bring fantasies to reality.
If you think that champagne is reserved for special occasions, well, look again. You too can have your very own Moet & Chandon vending machine set up at your private party, but at a price. For $35,000 you can have a system that conveniently delivers individual bottles of champagne at your feet, set up inside your venue of choice.
Sprinkles Cupcakes has a special name for their vending machines. Referred to as Sprinkle ATM’s (a play on automated cash machines), these flamingo pink kiosks are placed in airports and shopping malls throughout the U.S., offering a variety of delights sure to satisfy even the most hardcore sweet tooth. Similarly, The Bakery Box (pictured above) also offers a variety of delectable desserts with the just the click of a button! You can find them in a few locations around Illinois.
It may not come as a surprise that “the city of angels,” aka Los Angeles, is one of the primary spots where you can find gourmet vending machines. Beverly Hills Caviar is a gourmet company that carries a full range of caviar, from Imperial Beluga to American Black Caviar. In 2012, the company created a caviar vending machine that would be placed inside of shopping centers throughout LA. The machine, which was built in Spain, took time to develop, as there are many intricate factors in helping to keep $50,000 worth of inventory fresh. Due to the need for constant cleaning and restocking, Beverly Hills Caviar vending machines have been placed on hold during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Don’t Tell Mom
Yet another issue when it comes to the benefits of vending machines, is the question of discretion, and all the ways in which automated systems could help support privacy. Think about it, vending machines are the perfect solution for total autonomy.
Long-gone are the days of simple vending machines carrying tampons and maxi pads on the walls of public restrooms. Today, you can find vending machines dedicated to total female hygiene and health. One such machine, which contains an abundance of emergency contraceptives, is installed on campus at Purdue University in Indiana. There you will find Plan B Pills, ibuprofen, condoms and even pregnancy tests, enabling students to care for their own health.
In 2018, Seoul Korea created a program to overcome what the country calls “period poverty.” This incentive involved the placement of vending machines in the bathrooms of several libraries, museums, and youth centers. Kiosks offered free sanitary pads and tampons, so that women would not have to worry about cost. For young women living with financial insecurity, this simple solution can make a truly positive impact on the quality of their lives.
Vending machines have come a long way since their earliest antiquated models. They’ve gone from selling packaged snacks and sodas at hotel lobbies and state fairs, to offering luxury goods on the streets of Paris.
There’s no telling where the vending machine business will take us next, and with all the creativity and potential at hand, who knows what the future will bring? Whether you’re interested in starting your own unique vending business, or are just looking for a way to upgrade your existing machines, contact us.