Yo-Kai Express is heading off to college to feed hot ramen to hungry students. Over the weekend, company founder and CEO Andy Lin posted a picture on Linkedin of Yo-Kai’s newest vending machine installation at the University of Arizona.
In a follow up email sent to The Spoon, Yo-Kai COO Amanda Tsung said that the company now has 25 machines live. The hot ramen vending kiosks are located across corporate campuses, hotels, retail locations, airports and now, colleges. The University of Arizona will actually be getting two additional Yo-Kais once students and faculty return.
In addition to the University of Arizona, Yo-Kai has installations going in at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center Parnassus and the University of San Diego. Machines will accept student dining programs as a form a payment.
College campuses were becoming quite the hot spot for automated vending machines like Chowbotics and Blendid prior to the pandemic. Colleges are a good target location for unattended vending machines because they have a sizable population of students that don’t necessarily constrain their mealtimes to normal daylight hours. Vending machines can operate around the clock, and have the ability nowadays to serve up pretty complex food like ramen and grain bowls.
Yo-Kai could be a canary in the coalmine — a sign that the college campus market could be back in play for automated vending companies. With overall infection rates in the U.S. declining (knocks on wood) and vaccine efforts ramping up, students going back to college in the fall could mark a return to “normal” (whatever that will actually mean).
Relatedly, last month the San Francisco Airport gave the go-ahead to Cafe X to reopen its robot barista in the Terminal 3 location as foot traffic there ticked back up. Airports, too, could once again be a more thriving location for vending machines as travel increases.
For those vending startups that have successfully weathered the COVID-19 storm thus far, this should be welcome news that more opportunities lie ahead.