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Vending machines are cool.
No, really! Between robotics, IoT and way better food, today’s vending machines are poised to be a great, pardon the phrase, disruptor in food tech.
To fully understand why I’m all-in on vending machines, you should check out my new report, The Great Vending Reinvention: The Spoon’s Smart Vending Machine Market Report over on Spoon Plus, our new research and virtual events membership community.
The report covers a ton of players in the space including Chowbotics, Yo-Kai, API-Tech and many, many more. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but here are just a few reasons I’m so excited about the smart vending machine space:
- COVID-19. If/when we all emerge from this pandemic, people will want fewer human hands touching their food. Smart vending machines literally keep all their ingredients inside a sealed box and provide automated service.
- Small footprint. Because they don’t require much physical space, they can be set up quickly almost anywhere and run around the clock. They also provide a lower-cost way to launch a food brand into new outlets (like existing retail spaces!).
- Better food. Robotic arms and fast service don’t amount to much if the food is junk. Thankfully, there is a new wave of machines making fresh food from menus created by actual chefs.
To be sure, things right now aren’t exactly rosy for the smart vending machine space. Cafe X shut down its SF locations, Stockwell shut down and the European Vending & Coffee Service Association said its operators are experiencing losses of up to 90 percent.
It’s not hard to understand why we’re in a dark time. Vending machines are meant to be in high-traffic areas where people want food quickly. Places like airports, offices and dorms. Guess what’s shut down right now? Airports, offices and dorms.
But as I lay out in the report, there’s reason to believe that new opportunities will arise, and with it the whole smart vending sector.
Could Apple Clips Bring Contactless Payments into the Mainstream?
During Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference yesterday, Apple announced App Clips. Basically, it let’s you get can access specific functionality of an app without having to download the full version of that app.
So for example, you could visit a coffee shop and pay with your phone without having to download that coffee shop’s app, set up an account and enter credit card information. Everything is done through Apple Sign In and Apple Pay.
This is actually a big move in a pandemic world where contactless payment options will be more important when it comes to getting customers to eat inside restaurants again. Apple greasing the skids like this with its massive footprint could make contactless payments more ubiquitous.
Apple also showed off other potential uses for Clips, including finding a nearby restaurant and even interacting with connected kitchen services like Drop. Perhaps we’ll see micro-transactions for connected devices, like buying a recipe specifically for an appliance, rather than getting a premium subscription.
We’ll certainly be watching to see what kitchen uses Clips comes up with.
Investing into the Future of Restaurant Tech
Restaurants are going through an unprecedented time of flux. What are some of the opportunities and challenges ahead for the industry? Brita Rosenheim, a Partner at Better Food Ventures recently shared her thoughts on “the new normal” for restaurants and what they need to do to adapt. Following is an excerpt of her guest post (you should totally read the whole thing, though):
Convenience reigns supreme: The shift to take-out/delivery will reshape the basic premise of many restaurants
Well before COVID-related shutdowns, the increasing customer demands for convenience had already fueled a major shift from dine-in to take out/delivery. In 2019, we reached the tipping point where off-premise sales (drive-thru, takeout, delivery, catering) represented a majority of U.S. restaurant revenues. Now, intensified by a decimated restaurant industry and an uncertain socially distanced future, the growth of off-premise will only continue.
As restaurant operators increasingly respond to our “new normal”, we have seen many full-service restaurant concepts testing a more “fast casual” off-premise approach, with increased tech-focused integration, minimized employee/customer exposure, and a lot of creativity to inject hospitality into socially-distanced interactions.
The bottom line is that the restaurant experience – from QSR to Fine Dining – will increasingly no longer be confined to the four walls of a restaurant. We have reached an urgent point where the basic premise of dine-in restaurants must evolve in order to generate the sales volume and margins to remain financially viable.