Canadian Vending

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How niche products and vending can go hand-in-hand.


February 12, 2020
By Dominic Messier

Topics
Operators should approach small restaurants and craft food purveyors; Features like a small footprint can appeal to food industry pros looking to expand their business.

In late November, a new vending machine made its debut in the food court at the Royal Bank Plaza in downtown Toronto. With holidays around the corner and New Year resolutions to eat healthier just around the corner, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment. Live. Organics, an organic vegetarian restaurant based in Toronto wanted to expand its footprint, but who can afford another shop with the crippling cost of real estate?

Jennifer Italiano, the owner Live Organic Food Bar said it all started at the suggestion of Nick Meena, of Novapro Equipment Ltd. Meena had both the experience and the contacts for automated vending, and put Italiano in touch with someone who could assemble a food-safe vending machine.

“I thought it was really unique because it could sell really fresh food,” said Italiano. “There was nobody here really doing it here, organic and plant-based, like we are. I thought it was a good fit.” Co-owner, Larissa Menna, agrees. “My dad [Nick Menna] and I were thinking, there’s nothing that you can really grab around the clock really quickly, that’s fresh and has clean ingredients. So we started looking into this concept. We thought Live. Organics would be a really great fit, and Jennifer loved the idea: she thought that would be perfect as well for their product, so that’s kind of how we formed the partnership.”

Italiano and Menna did their due diligence, looking into healthy vending machines in Europe and the U.S. The pair agreed that they don’t refer to the machine as a “vending machine” due to their reputation for dispensing unhealthy food; choosing to refer to it instead as a ‘kiosk.’ “When you think ‘vending machines’ you think of those old-school machines, where you put in money and get a bag of chips,” explains Italiano. “But this is on the next level, I think.”

“When I saw them, I couldn’t believe how beautifully designed it was,” recalls Italiano. “How sleek it was, how forward it was in terms of the technology. That elevator that’s in the machine is quiet, it’s a sophisticated machine. They’ve changed quite a bit from those machines where you’d have to bang the door for your popcorn to come down.”

Menna adds, “the technology is just so amazing. It’s so user friendly, so many different visuals on the screen, so much information. You can see all the nutritional information and it shows you pictures of the product.”

Italiano and Menna chose the RBC Plaza for a number of reasons, the first being foot traffic and average consumer spending for the area. Knowing the plaza often has both bank clerks and retailers who worked evenings and weekends, an alternative to fast food has its allure.

Live. Organics’ owners are notified every time a sale is made, making inventory and sales forecast easier: They can tell what is and isn’t a popular with clients..

Despite the ideal location and their market research that supported launching a plant-based snack kiosk, it didn’t take off overnight. “We’ve had the machine sitting in our Toronto production office over three years,” admits Italiano. “The reason for the delay was just getting side-tracked by business. It was a whole new business, and it came down to finding the best place for it. We reached out to some people, there was some interest, but nothing too much at the time, then it was just put off.

Originally, both Italiano and Menna wanted to see their kiosk in a school, hospital or other high-traffic area where the need for fresh fruit and vegetables would be most welcome. However, they needed to know what would sell the most easily. The pair opted for a machine that would attract attention with eye-popping graphics in its wrap, and provide telemetry to indicate what was sold, and when.

“As soon as you sell something, it notifies you. You go on to a website and you know what you sold or not sold. We can tell from home, or wherever we are, remotely, what we need to replenish. It will notify us with something like ‘at 10:23 two dips sold.’ Back in the day, you had to send somebody down there, to gauge what sold and didn’t. Now, we log in somewhere and that’s it.”

Menna found telemetry a handy tool that helped her develop customer insights to build inventory based on timing and preference. She discovered that her machine’s base clientele was predominately in the evening and on weekends. “Because it’s accessible 24 hours is kind of neat to see what sells during one particular time…to see activity on certain weekends. Because people are working on the weekend, and nothing else is available, customers wanted to grab something quick and healthy. So it was really cool to be able to see what people bought at what time.”

An added advantage was the option to go cashless, which provided two great alternatives: Collecting sales safely, and preventing clients from counting change. Having a debit and credit option increased sales, and also provided proof the customers are willing to pay more for a premium item, if giving the chance to use plastic. The Nayax interface creates a frictionless experience for the customer who can choose to tap their debit card, or swipe a credit card.

Ultimately, the owners of Live. Organics want to see more machines where they would be put to the best use. “I want them to go into a hospital; that’s really our market,” admits Italiano. “RBC has been great for opening the door for a lot of stuff, just to get it out there as a test market.”

This launch also signals a change in high end vending options: Last December, Carlos’ Cake Factory also opened in the RBC Plaza, selling gourmet cake by the slice. While some reviled the idea of buying cake from a machine when bakeries and pastry shops were steps away, it did indicate that there is curiosity — and a market — for premium food products in vending.

Italiano feels that the time is right for the premiumization snack foods. While Live Organics doesn’t sell products made with refined sugar, she agrees that there is a market for using vending machines to sell higher end, and higher ticket items, particularly gourmet food. “I think people got sick of eating crap food. I think we’re a world now where people understand what we need to eat to feel good, explains Italiano.“We are a world that is driven by different types of food. It’s a big part of who we are… I think people expect that now in a grab-and-go format. I don’t think people are just going for that quick, drive through thing anymore. People want good food whenever they can get it.” o


Dominic Messier is a bilingual Toronto-based writer originally from Quebec. He currently writes about pop culture trends and new and interesting events and ventures .He is a graduate of Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, QC.