Technology and consumer trends are changing the face of vending. To get a glimpse into the future of the industry, CokeSolutions spoke with Carla Balakgie, president and CEO, National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), which represents 1,800-plus members including service companies, equipment manufacturers and product suppliers. Following are excerpts from our interview.
Q. What are some exciting vending innovations coming to market?
A. Fully digital machines with interactive fronts, social media engagement and GPS services to locate the nearest refreshment, to cite a few. One of the biggest is micro-markets, which are unattended mini stores with food and beverages – including fresh, packaged and frozen – and non-consumables.
Micromarkets create an offering for businesses and organizations that don’t want to sustain a full line of food service, but desire more than a vending machine. This new merchandiser is perfect for companies focused on employee satisfaction and targeted consumers, such as Gen X and Gen Y, who show a preference for an unattended experience. This “newest face of the break room” is not a one-size-fits-all, but highly customizable for your clientele.
Q. What other trends are impacting the industry?
A. Environmentally friendly products: machines retrofitted with LED lights, recycled cups and containers, hydrofluorocarbon-free venders, hybrid vehicles and other ways to reduce the carbon footprint. Companies are realizing consumers appreciate these steps and it's good business.
Cashless vending is also huge. Vending is still 90% cash and electronic payments create a significant sales lift, according to NAMA. Cash will be increasingly used less frequently in the future, so it's important that operators take steps to reach the consumers they want to attract.
Q. Sparkling beverages have always been a mainstay of vending. How can operators take advantage of this offering to maximize sales and profitability?
A. The sparkling category is still very profitable. In fact, total sparkling soft drinks are up 1.1%. When you look at immediate consumption, sparkling soft drinks sales are up 3.4%1.
In addition, a key vending industry driver is offering a variety of options to meet consumers’ diverse needs. In light of this trend, operators need to provide more options. For example The Coca-Cola Company has Coca-Cola Freestyle®, a touchscreen-operated beverage dispenser that offers 100+ choices, including waters, sports drinks, lemonades and sparkling beverages.
Carla Balakgie is president and CEO of NAMA, the National Automatic Merchandising Association, which provides advocacy, education and research to its membership. Prior to joining NAMA in 2011, Balakgie served as CEO of the Electronic Transactions Association and senior vice president and COO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers. She began her career in association management at the American Society of Association Executives. A certified association executive and a Fellow of the American Society of Association Executives, Balakgie is the first woman to lead NAMA in its 78-year history.
1Nielsen Total U.S. Convenience Retail – YTD through June 14