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Expanded Food for Thought

Paul Partyka |

CHICAGO — It seems like a no-brainer. Put someone in a coin laundry for an hour or two waiting for their laundry and remember that Americans love to eat and drink. Vending is the perfect extra profit center.This isn’t news to coin laundry owners. Visit a coin laundry, or a variety of other businesses for that matter, and there’s a pretty good chance that you will run into a snack/candy vender or drink vender. In 2004, vending was a 44 billion dollar industry, according to Vending Times. Cold drinks and snacks accounted for about 75 percent of all vending, the data also shows.What may be news to the coin laundry owner are the many vending options available — options that may suit your clientele and increase your bottom line.Japan is an interesting place to look when it comes to the different array of vended products. The country has one of the world’s highest vending machine densities, according to the Japan Vending Machine Manufacturers Association. In addition to the “standard” vended products, consumers in Japan can purchase alcoholic beverages, rice, fortune-telling slips of paper and evenproducts such as instant cameras.OK, some of those products may be just a bit “extreme” for the traditional coin laundry, but what about some food and drink favorites that you may have never considered?AS EASY AS PIE?For a good number of people, and probably more than admit to it, pizza is a way of life. You have probably seen some of your customers devouring a slice now and then. Maybe they brought it in with them or maybe they simply had it delivered to your store. There’s also another option to think about: Would it interest you to offer a hot, oven-baked pizza, ready to go in less than two minutes from a vender?A pizza vender has just started to make the rounds. The machines are expensive ($18,000) and are about twice the size of most vending machines. A machine can hold 102 refrigerated 9-inch pies (three different varieties), and the pies go for around $5.In this case, pizza goes high-tech. Each unit has a computer that allows the owner to remotely check inventory and a monitor and touchpad for customers to choose the type of pizza and the crispiness of the crust. If microwaved pizza doesn’t appeal to you, that’s not a problem. A key selling point of the unit is that the pizza is baked, not microwaved.NEW TAKE ON AN OLD SNACKMicrowaved popcorn is still a fairly new offering of an old-time favorite. What about an alternative? Air-popped popcorn venders have something to offer.For the health-conscious, air-popped popcorn is higher in fiber than bran, according to several groups, including Weight Watchers International®. It has a wide appeal, is low in calories and has no cholesterol.For those less interested in the health benefits, multiple topping flavors are available, including a canola oil-based buttery topping similar to what is used at movie theaters.For the laundry owner, the vender has compact product supplies with a long shelf life.A MEAL IN ITSELFIt’s not exactly the small diner down the street, but you can get a vender offering a host of hot product selections — pizza, chicken nuggets, french fries and hot turkey pastrami sandwiches to name a few. These menu items could range from $1 to $2.50.The goal of this machine, according to the manufacturer, is to provide high-quality, good tasting, hot-cooked meals from frozen packaged meals in 90 seconds or less.Again, you may have some skepticism regarding the taste of these products, but the manufacturer claims that the items truly match up with those of any of the known fast food establishments.MAKE ROOM FOR DAIRYDrinks and vending are a tradition. Soft drinks, juice, and more recently bottled water are established vending products. Milk and ice cream companies are now trying to make their mark in the vending world.Would it be easier to pacify a child at a coin laundry if you offered milk? What about offering milk and cookies, a true American favorite? A little ice cream might also go a long way in keeping children away from your equipment.New vending technology has reportedly gone a long way in eliminating some of the dairy vending problems such as spoilage, leaking and melting. New milk vending machines are completely refrigerated, and advancements in packaging have also meant going away from the awkward cardboard milk carton and moving to a more convenient single-serve plastic bottle.As for ice cream vending, do you remember the very first ice cream venders? Some of these machines only contained a couple of types of similar-sized ice cream bars. Cone-type novelties weren’t available. Today, some of the ice cream venders can offer up to 18 selections of various products, including the most popular identifiable products.In terms of marketing, the new machines also showcase a photo of the unwrapped ice cream bar or a front view of the entire product — pretty tempting for a customer ready to satisfy a sweet tooth. VARIETY: THE SPICE OF LIFEFor the time being, you may be satisfied with the basic drink and snack/candy vender. However, chatting with customers or even putting together a short customer survey form may lead you on a different vending path. If you know your customers, you can simply tailor your vending to meet their needs. For example, you might want to promote “healthy” snacking. In this case, low-fat products may be the way to go. Traditional products such as pretzels and small bags of salted nuts tend to be the healthier choices when it comes to traditional products.A little thought may just lead to more satisfied customers and a bump in the bottom line. 

About the author

Paul Partyka

American Coin-Op

Paul Partyka was editor of American Coin-Op from 1997 through May 2011.

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