As the coronavirus continues to spread around the world, we are watching in real time as our food systems adapt. Everyone, after all, still has to eat amidst the outbreak, but enjoying a meal or shopping for groceries around hundreds of strangers in a crowded restaurant or supermarket carries more risk than it did just a few months ago.
We’ve seen robots delivering food to quarantined patients, a driverless vehicle company offering up its technology to assist with food delivery, and over the weekend, a reader sent us the following tip:
In Korea, non-commercial, unmanned fresh food stores are popular because of the coronavirus.
Along with that brief note came a link to a Korean blog post about the Meatbox 365, an automated meat vending machine service. It’s a small, real world location that houses three different vending machines. We couldn’t get a ton of details because we read a Google translation of the webpage, but it appears that two vending machines are serving a range of meats like beef, lamb, and pork in a variety of cuts. The third machine serves salads and sides. There also appears to be a bank of cold storage lockers where you can presumably safely store your purchases for pickup later.
Meatbox 365 falls neatly into the Venn diagram of topics we’re following closely here at The Spoon. First, it’s another example of the golden age of vending machines, which we are starting to enter now. The Meatbox 365 is basically a 24-hour butcher shrunk down into a very small physical footprint. Not everyone needs a pork chop at 2 a.m., but it can provide a fresh meat alternative for busy people unable to make it to an actual grocery store.
Second, as noted earlier, we are watching to see how the coronavirus pandemic alters the meal journey. An automated butcher means less human-to-human contact as people shop for meat, and people can venture out of their homes in off-hours to buy protein to avoid crowds.
Of course, the touchscreens and dispensing cavities of the Meatbox 365 machines need to be scrubbed down and/or people need to wash their hands after using the machine to minimize the risk of spreading the virus.
Based on a video posted by TechCafe, Meatbox 365 has been in operation since at least October of last year. I’d love to see any stats around Meatbox 365 sales since then, just to get a sense of how people in Korea adopt buying meat from a machine. But it would also be interesting to see stats over the past few weeks as coronavirus cases have spiked in Korea, and whether the automated nature of the machines has spurred sales.
We actually have meat vending machines here in the U.S. as well. The Applestone Meat company has two meat vending machines that operate 24/7 in New York. Though those machines aren’t as high-tech, and lack the touchscreens of Meatbox.
If you’re in Korea and have bought meat from a Meatbox, drop us a line and let us know why you did so and how the experience was!