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Feature: Vending industry, a high-tech attraction at Chicago show
[April 30, 2010]

Feature: Vending industry, a high-tech attraction at Chicago show

CHICAGO, Apr 30, 2010 (Xinhua via COMTEX) -- by Jing Zhao Cesarone Buzzing with new ideas, cutting-edge concepts and advanced technologies, vending industry delivered instant gratification when its spectacular annual event opened Thursday at Chicago's McCormick Place.

The OneShow, a three-day expo, organized by the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), is the place to learn what's new in the vending industry, meet relevant leaders and gain knowledge critical to growing a food-service or vending business in today's marketplace.

A revolution in technology and the growth of the internet has transformed vending into a 30-billion-U.S. dollar industry characterized by convenience and fresh products.

Today, consumers can streamline their busy lifestyles by using vending machines to purchase almost everything they can think of.

More services, various payment options and easier usage have made shopping through a vending machine easier, quicker and more reliable than ever for consumers.

Walking onto the trade show floor, one can't help but notice a giant "iPhone" surrounded by many spectators at Coca-Cola's dynamic, vibrant-red booth. Jeffery Busch, director of on-premise equipment innovation and operation from Coca-Cola North America, was demonstrating how to order a bottle of pop.

Busch told Xinhua that it is called Coca-Cola Interactive Vendor. "It takes what used to be a very transactional experience into an interactive experience, which includes sight, sound, motion and touch," he said.

He explained that the interesting part is that "after you touch the screen to make a selection, you can actually interact with the bottle by touching the screen to play a little, or check out its nutritional facts." Busch was very excited when talking about the launch plan for this interactive vending machine.

"It is all wireless. We just need to call into the machines and download the latest content. We are trying to bring people back to the experience of vending. Currently, we are still at a testing stage but are very excited about the feedback from consumers," he said.

Another star vending machine at the show was from Kraft. Paul Schindelar, vice president Vending/OCS food service at Kraft Foods, demonstrated the amazing features of the Kraft digital touch vending machine.

"Our vending machine is much like an iPhone. Consumers are able to touch and select the product they like and can actually buy more than one product at a time. They can also flip the screen to reach for various products," he said.

He further commented, "Traditional vending machines have been the same way for about 30 years. This is something that can really help the industry move into a much more technologically advanced direction. In addition, all the payment systems are cashless.

Right now it is still in a test stage and will expand in the next six months in the United States." Also whipping up a lot of excitement at the show was the organic cotton candy vending machine. Marty Smith, vice president of North American Sales at, displayed the magic of making instant cotton candy. He simply pushed a button, and in one minute out popped the fresh, fluffy confection.

"Our machine is designed to help make cotton candy easy and accessible. All you need to do is to insert a couple of dollar bills and push the button," Smith told Xinhua.

Another revolutionary vending machine is called Flix on Stix designed to transfer movies from a computer to a memory stick.

James Winsor, CEO of AVT Inc., explained: "The idea is to get rid of renting DVD movies which you have to return. In this particular case, you transfer movies into a memory stick, watch it on TV at home, and never worry about scratching the disk. This vending machine is brand new and will be deployed by summer or fall of this year." NAMA is U.S. national trade association of the food and refreshment vending, coffee services and on-site foodservice management industries. Its membership is comprised of service companies, equipment manufacturers and suppliers of products and services to operating service companies.

The vending industry is a sector with 700,000 employees who work in some 13,500 companies. Every day about 100 million Americans will use one of the 7 million vending machines.

In the United States, 16.3 percent of vending machines are located in schools and colleges and the largest number of vending machines, 30.2 percent, is located in manufacturing places.

While Thursday's technologically enhanced machines may be new, there is nothing new about vending products. The vending industry can date back to 215 B.C., when a device that was used to dispense holy water was used in the temples of Egypt. As the technological revolution continues to unfold, vending machines will offer new opportunities for consumers to streamline their busy lives.

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