Soda in a snap: Technology gives vending industry a jolt

Ready for that midday soda or energy jolt?

Soon you may not even have to touch a vending machine to grab that sugar-free Dr Pepper, Orange Crush or Red Bull.

Using a sensor at the top of the machine, an ice cube avatar on the screen mimics your movements, allowing you to choose a drink. Tap a credit card against the machine, and grab your ice-cold beverage as it pops out. You never have to touch a thing but your drink and your card.

Germophobes everywhere are smiling.

Once an industry without much change, vending is experiencing a resurgence through technology and a generation that expects lightning-quick service. The no-touch, interactive vending machine, for example, was created by Pepsico and is powered by Kinect for Windows through an exploratory program with Microsoft.

New vending tech, including Pepsi’s machine, was on display throughout the 2013 OneShow, the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s annual convention, held in Las Vegas in late April.

Vending machines stocked with shoes, makeup and computer parts filled the front of the convention hall, signaling a departure from the familiar chip-and-soda filled vending machines of the office environment.

Among the big names exhibiting this year were Hershey, Mondelez International, Kellogg, Mars and Kraft Foods. Attendance was up 4 percent this year to 5,000, with 248 exhibitors on the 66,000-square-foot floor.

“It’s been a phenomenal turnout. There’s a lot of energy in the industry,” said Mark Dieffenbach, chairman of the NAMA board and director of sales for specialty retail for Hershey.

At his booth, Matt Wolov, Red Bull’s national vending channel manager, was tasked with trying to persuade operators to buy their own machines, as opposed to using brand-specific ones.

It’s more beneficial that way for Red Bull, which then will pay for more space in a general machine. Red Bull, which represents about 40 percent of the energy channel, is growing 20 percent a year, in part because of that model.

Dieffenbach said vending, a $42 billion industry, is growing in America.

“As the millennial generation ages, we’re seeing a lot more interesting things happening,” he said.

No longer just a box with a glass front, the vending machines of today can show you a product’s nutritional information label via a touchscreen, such as U Select It’s Dijitouch model.

“In the next two months, we’ll see a lot of machines being placed. The show is the momentum for that,” said Paul Ihn, U Select It’s vice president of engineering.

Products not traditionally sold in vending machines, such as computer parts, are slowly becoming the norm. Called micromarkets in the industry, it’s a popular business model.

“The units don’t take coffee breaks. They don’t smoke and they don’t come in hung over, so they’re a very reliable, 24/7 sales agent that can create a real branding experience,” said Chris Goumas, partnerships and new business for Vendors Exchange Global Vending.

Contact reporter Laura Carroll at lcarroll@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4588. Follow @lscvegas on Twitter.

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