Why Do Vending Machines Always Sell Chocolate, Chips and Gum?

There you stand, looking at the glass that covers a wide array of unappetizing concoctions that will become in just a few minutes your unfortunate lunch for the day. You are stuck with the mother of tasteless, cold and stiff snacks world: the vending machine.

You scratch your head, take one last skim through the options and take the painful decision. You choose the sandwich and the chocolate bar.

Vending machines have carried a reputation for becoming a resourceful venue to nurture the late night party person, the “all-night-study” college person, the “airport-stuck” traveler and the tourist who wants to save some dollars, among others.

School and College Vending Machine

The star choices of the vending machine are the dry ham and cheese sandwich, the bad smelling tuna-looking sandwich, the mini bag of chips, the packet of unsatisfying chewing gums, the wide array of trans fat sweet junk food snacks, the packet of “fresh” apple slices and the multiple rows of the same sad type of soda drink. And let’s not forget about the cereal bar, the best breakfast option ever.

The vending machine has options, many of them, at a very affordable price, but far from reality they can become one’s worst nightmare when hunger strikes.

Everywhere I go it seems as if the same vending machine follows me around to haunt me. Why do all vending machines offer the exact same options that look so unappetizing? It seems I am only allowed to buy the same sandwich, the same chocolate bar, the same bag of chips and the same cereal bar. Did I miss the ban on snack choices available for consumption?

We have become “snackers”. So how come we don’t get past the sandwich, chocolate bar and gum?

It is funny how vending machines are always packed full, so full that whenever a brave person finally decides to spend some money and eat one of those delicious food options, the product gets stuck. It won’t budge despite resorting to shake the machine ferociously, kicking it madly and inserting the hand down and up the receiving hole. Really, who created this machine?

Where Did It All Start?
The vending machine concept as we know it today can be dated back to the late 1880s when Adams Gum Company designed the gum vending machine that many Generation X people and even Millennials have played with in their childhood. The mechanism was easy: insert coin, get gum. It might not have been the best gum but at least it was fun.

Gum Vending Machines

Today the same simple concept applies; however, when technology and consumerism takes over, we go BIG.

Today, the vending machine industry is buoyant. Just in Europe, it is estimated that there are 3.74 million vending machines ranging from coffee dispensers to the fabulous multi-snacks inventions mentioned above.

Why is the vending machine sector so successful when clearly the food and beverages sold in these machines are less than desirable?

Vending Machine Success
I was wrong. The truth is there are all sorts of vending machines. It may be that the advantage of being able to stock these machines with a wide diversity has guaranteed their long-term survival. Despite multiple reviews and comments criticizing the taste of watery coffee by some machines or eating bland sandwiches purchased from another, vending machines keep haunting us and coming at us reinvented.

Let’s dig deeper into the success of vending machines:

1. Chocolate, chips and gum are the classic winners
When I tell someone that I don’t like chocolate I get all types of reactions: wide eyes, open mouths, eyebrow frowning, the “are you joking?” comment and the “you don’t know what you are missing” blunt statement. I know that I am a minority and that a large amount of the population likes and perhaps would die for chocolate. Thus it cannot be denied that chocolate has to appeal to many, many people. It would be a safe bet to go for the most popular choice.

The same applies to chips and gums. These may not be healthy or satisfying meals but vending machines have a guaranteed sale when they offer very popular items. People already know what these machines offer and it might not be smart to deceive people who may have purposefully thought of buying some chips from a vending machine. Think about how would you feel if you came across a restaurant called “The Burger Place” and didn’t offer a burger on the menu.

Vending machines offer the “classics” and everyone knows that.

2. Humans need to drink to survive (any beverage will do)
I am not saying that humans need to drink alcohol or get drunk to stay alive, although there are vending machines that will sell solely alcoholic beverages and NOTHING.ELSE.

The fact is that humans need fluids more than foods. It is estimated that one can live without water for no more than 4 to 5 days.

Also worth noting, it can be argued that most humans may not be able to survive an uncomfortable or embarrassing social situation without a beverage. Beverages not only have become a physiological necessity but also a social necessity. Weddings, parties and dates without drinks may become a recipe for disaster.

It isn’t only chocolate that I don’t eat but I don’t drink coffee or tea either. Many times have I been offered a warm beverage at a business meeting. How would it come across if I said no to coffee and tea?

Vending machines that sell water, soft drinks or warm beverages exist in surplus in many buildings and help humans take their necessary fluids.

3. You never know when you might be thankful for finding one
I have always wondered who might want to buy an acne cream from an airport vending machine, but people do. I thought the same for flowers, electronics or makeup.

Imagine a situation were you arrive home for the holidays after a long 15 hours flight. You turn on your phone and you get a message saying that your sister has been taken to the hospital because she is giving birth to a lovely girl and that all your family is at the hospital awaiting the birth. Wouldn’t you want to get there as soon as possible? How about taking her some flowers?

What if you were taking a very important business trip early in the morning? Your boss calls you late the night before. You pack your bag as fast as possible and just when you were about to board the plane you notice you forgot your makeup. Where is the vending machine? you may desperately ask.

Have you bought an unconventional product from a vending machine before?

4. Innovation doesn’t understand of shapes and sizes
When I think of innovation, I think of Japan. It cannot be denied that Asian countries have stepped up their game and have achieved outstanding developments. Once you step into the country it doesn’t take long to finally ascertain that Japan is way, way ahead the rest of the world and their vending machines are proof of that.

In Japan one can buy from a vending machine almost everything and I can imagine how exciting it would be to come across this beautiful display of vending machines.Vending Machines in Japan

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What is new, different and sometimes scary can be a paramount point that will attract many people. Not only do humans want the old packet of gums from the vending machine but they may be excited to know that there are a huge plethora of items that are now sold through a small vending machine.

Vending machines are impacting the practices of many sectors. As mentioned, about everything can be sold from a vending machine and now the health industry is considering taking it one step further.

Healthy Vending Machines?
Whole, organic and fresh food has been pronounced as the solution to end the fast food and junk food bubble. However, who would have believed years ago that they could both coexist together?

One of the most popular healthy fast food options across the United States is Panera Bread. They specialize in breakfast, lunch and dinner quick meals, which includes an assortment of pastries, salads, sandwiches and some pasta dishes.

This is a fragment from Panera Bread’s Food Policy statement released last year:

“For decades, we have worked to provide our customers with food they can trust and transparency that allows them to make choices. Our commitment to the core tenets of Food Policy extends back to our earliest days, when we set a course to be the antithesis of heavily processed and commercial food and change the way Americans ate by offering something better, something people could feel good about”.

It is possible to sell healthy food options through the fast food concept and Panera Bread is continuously working to exemplify the statement. Some people may say that Panera Bread is not a healthy option but there is no doubt that the fast food sector has branched out in the last few years.

It also seems that the health world is coming to the vending machine sector too.

Recently it was published that PepsiCo will soon be selling its new brand Hello Goodness through vending machines.

Hello Goodness by PepsiCo

It is still on many people’s minds how much PepsiCo, known for its sugary soda drinks, is going to offer truly healthy products. It has been stated that it will offer Naked Juices or Sabra hummus cups among other options.

Chocolate, chips, sandwiches and gums are still the popular choices in vending machines’ offerings. Healthy fast food venues were inconceivable years ago when comments about how junk food inundated many fast food establishments became the center of the argument. Today healthy food is prepared and sold in establishments that fall under the fast food category.

The industry is just recently exploring how can vending machines become part of the health movement. It may take a long time to see ones offering a piece of fruit or a salad bowl; or we may be wrong because perhaps Japan may already be walking one step ahead of us. Who wants to go to Japan and find out?


Your turn:

-Do you like or dislike vending machines?

-What do you usually buy from vending machines?

-Have you been to Japan?

What do you think?

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