He went to the Vending Machine Show, an annual gathering of the latest and greatest devices coming to an office near you.
The National Automatic Merchandising Association recently held its annual convention here in Chicago, and while the days of paying for your candy bars with credit cards and phones are already here there are also signs that the vending machines of the future will also have a few healthier options as well.
They come from all over the country, hoping to convince building managers to carry their products in their offices. From snacks to meals the Vending Machine Show took over McCormick Place to show off the latest in food-from-a-machine.
"Consumers today really rely on vending machines because our lives are so busy. We really rely on them and the products have to be delicious and they have to be there when and where they want them. And we are really dedicated to delivering that experience to the consumer," said Jackie Clark, of the National Automatic Merchandising Association.
There is certainly a junk food component here, or for that matter, high sodium products. But there is also some hope for school and office vending areas, thanks to a healthy, refrigerated machine from Del Monte. Cut fruit shares space with individually-wrapped bananas, plus apples with caramel.
"One of the things we've actually seen this year is an increase or emphasis on better for you products and actually educating the consumer about nutrition issues," said Clark.
That trend has already surfaced in the suburbs, where a local company, Healthy U, has about two dozen machines selling only certified organic or all-natural items.
Another side of the business is coffee. Most offices have some type of machine, but Tassimo, a division of Kraft, is hoping to convince office supply managers to try their new all-in-one machines which can whip up cappuccino and a host of other flavored espresso drinks in about a minute. You just need to buy the little packets of coffee every month.
To go along with your coffee, how about some breakfast. Branded machines are also big. Take this instant oatmeal machine from Quaker. You choose your flavorings - say, blueberry or peaches, then in about 30 seconds, out slides a hot cup of oatmeal that just needs to be stirred up to thicken and enjoy.
Clark says having handy access to nutritional information, or even just a comprehensive listing of ingredients, is also top-of-mind for manufacturers.
"There are a couple different machines that actually before you purchase the product, you can actually see the nutrition label on the screen," Clark said.
For more info about where they are in the suburbs:
888-827-3235 Ext 101
Info from Nat'l Automatic Merchandising Association: