Office life can often mean tight deadlines, which in turn often means making tough choices like ‘Funyuns or Fritos?’ when lunch rolls around.
But for those of us who believe that no time starved employee should have to sustain themselves on bags full of salt and high fructose corn syrup, things may be looking up: a new crop of startups are trying to revisit the office vending machine and bring fresher choices to those of us chained to our desk.
One of those startups is Byte Foods. The company operates a fleet of smart fridges installed in office break rooms and cafeterias throughout the Bay Area. The company, started by the husband and wife team of Lee and Megan Mokri in 2015, licenses their fridges stocked with fresh food from local producers such as Blue Bottle and Mixt Greens. Companies pay a monthly service fee, and Byte manages food inventory, payments and allows the employer to check out purchasing patterns with a web based dashboard. Employees access the food by swiping their card, choose what they want, and a bill is sent to their smartphone. Each food item has a small RFID tag on the bottom which helps the fridges determine which items the employee has chosen.
The Mokris ran food delivery startup 180 Eats before getting into fresh vending machines. The current version of Byte is a result of 2016 acquisition of Pantry, a company which made the fridge and software tech licensed by Byte when they launched in 2015. After a year of perfecting the combined offering of fresh food delivery with the product licensing model inherited from Pantry, the company is now looking to expand beyond the Bay Area with the cash from their recent $5.5 million funding round.
Another company bringing fresh food to office cafeterias as well as other locations such as O’Hare airport is Chicago based Farmer’s Fridge. The company, which operates in about 75 locations throughout the Windy City, stocks their fridges with fresh salads made in their kitchen. Customers can check their fridges for inventory with the Farmer’s Fridge app, which also helps them to find locations around town.
Like Byte, Farmer’s Fridge recently received an investment to fuel growth. The company recently received a $10 million investment led by French food giant Danone’s venture arm, Danone Ventures. The investment team also includes former McDonalds CEO, Don Thomson, through though venture firm he founded, Cleveland Avenue.
It’s not just American startups who are rethinking the vending machine. Foodles, a French startup, is using a model similar to Byte where they will install turnkey connected vending machines stocked with food for $3,400 per month. The company, which is operating in a dozen locations throughout Paris, has raised just over $2 million in funding.
And as it turns out, big companies are also toying with the idea of fresher food from the vending machine. At SXSW this year, Panasonic showed off a smart vending machine called ‘Bento@Your Office’, which dispensed – you guessed it – bento boxes for employees.
In some ways, this new crop of startups is taking many of the ideas created by micromarket movement that’s started to gain traction over the past few years. Fresher food and better technology have started to push vending machine operators across the country evaluate new models. The vending market, which is a $20 billion plus market across food and other items, is a potentially significant opportunity for those looking to shake things up.
And that’s exactly what this new crop of startups bringing fresher food to offices looks to do. The race is on to create national footprints as these companies look beyond their home markets to find new customers for their turnkey fresh vending concepts.
And hopefully, for those of us racing to meet deadlines, we will soon have more choices than Funyuns or Fritos for lunch.
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