As consumers opt for healthy and convenient options, brand owners within the snack food industry are striving to meet this need state. On-the-go consumers often use the accessibility and convenience of modern vending machines as their one-stop-shop for snacking and beverage needs.

Sixty percent of products sold by vending machines are beverages, says Chuck Reed, vice president and general manager of Crane Payment Innovations (CPI), Malvern, Pa.

Because consumers are leaning toward healthier options, vending companies have had to adapt to the trend by offering an extensive variety of beverages. “Bottlers are clearly using increased product variety in vending machines to help drive vending sales growth,” Reed says.

Crane Merchandising Systems (CMS), Williston, S.C., also recognizes the consumer need for more choices. “Both product companies and vending operators are seizing the opportunity to extend their offerings and increase revenue,” says Kirn Reis, vice president and general manager of cold drink, snack and food for CMS.

Reis notes that the proliferation of different packaging sizes and shapes, as well as material innovations, are helping products stand out in the vending channel. However, vending companies need to continue to innovate to meet the demand of on-the-go consumers.


The technological side

As technology advances, consumers have come to expect more from vending machines, particularly among younger consumers.

Younger consumers, including millennials and Generation Z, demand choices in bottled water, isotonic drinks, healthy drinks and gourmet coffees, which continues to influence CMS’ vending design and technology, he adds.

A leading trend CMS identifies is that consumers want to know what is in the product. To support this demand, the company features technology that allows each product’s nutritional information to be viewed through machine touchscreens. The technology also enables consumers with the ability to customize coffee and tea products, says Gillian White, CMS’ vice president and general manager of coffee.

Cashless payment solutions are another prominent trend within the vending industry and has been a priority for Crane Payment Innovations, according to CPI’s Reed. “In the spirit of expanding consumer choice, CPI continues to offer modular payment options that accept any form of payment: cash, credit card, mobile wallet, QR code, store value and various app-based payment alternatives,” he says.

“Our payment hardware is modular, allowing a vending operator to add new forms of payment to a base cash acceptance system,” Reed continues. “We provide cash validation technology, cashless readers, telemeters for cashless clearing as well as remote machine alarm monitoring, and back end management systems that help bottlers manage their fleet of vending assets.”

CPI’s Connected Payment Platform, its newest payment system, offers six areas of connectivity that are split between payment options (cash and cashless), along with the addition of diagnostics, software uploads and security. This creates an ecosystem inside the vending machine that enables these technologies, operators and consumers to work together, Reed explains.

Security is even more important because connected vending machines create an entirely new dynamic from prior-generation machines that were not wirelessly connected. As a result, Reed explains that CPI is highly focused on security, realizing the critical importance of protecting vending operator and consumer data.

Before investing in new vending equipment, businesses should understand what they want from the machine itself. “Vending machines are important capital assets for operators and bottlers, so they are going to make those assets last as long as possible,” CMS’ Reis says.

“When they do buy new machines it is because they are looking to win new accounts and grow their business,” he continues. “So, of course, they should look at vending machines that will give them the best chance to win.”

Reis explains that businesses need to consider the whole package that vending platforms offer, including cashless options, custom graphics, digital advertising and enterprise software. “The refreshment that cold beverages provide has always been and will continue to be a primary pillar of the convenience of vending,” he says. “The bottlers are our biggest customer and they continue to innovate and deliver new product.

“A key part of the future is gaining greater understanding of the data that we now get from the connected machine,” Reis continues. “That consumer information can help bottlers and vending operators get more from their advertising, marketing and sales.” BI