A key trend identified during the recent NAMA OneShow in Las Vegas, hosted by the National Automated Merchandising Association, is increased emphasis on developing vending equipment that incorporates features designed to enhance consumers’ interactivity during the vending experience. 

Much enhancement in terms of vending interactivity centers around video and display technology advancements. Touch screens have become almost commonplace for most manufacturers, with options reflecting customers’ expectations for a pleasant experience even in short duration vending transactions. Several displays presented during the exhibition included holographic videos to simulate person-to-person interactivity. Another way manufacturers are addressing this trend is through enhanced entertainment options designed to generate customer appeal, such as vending equipment incorporating video gaming technology borrowed from the Microsoft Kinect style gaming interface. Still others opt for a simpler approch to improving the customer experience, using high-resolution display screens to display concise video messages that provide education about the food and beverage product choices available within the machines.

As discussed in a previous blog post Sealed Air’s Cryovac® brand participated in NAMA with vending equipment partner Jofemar USA.  The joint display featured a number of gourmet meals and snacks packaged in Cryovac® Simple Steps® microwaveable material, demonstrating how packaging plays an important role in interactivity with the consumer.  Cryovac® Simple Steps® microwaveable packaging features tight-to-the-product vacuum seals that enable food products to be displayed vertically for an appealing look. This is critical for vending operators looking for opportunities to stock items with higher price points, as consumers want to get a better look at products that command a premium price. They need to know they are getting quality before they opt to spend the extra money. The self-venting technology of Cryovac® Simple Steps® also brings enhanced convenience to the vending market by enabling product to go straight to the microwave once dispensed, with no need for the customer to cut or otherwise vent the film. The packaging also is compatible with certain Jofemar equipment on display during the show that incorporate integrated microwaves. These machines can with the touch of a button dispense hot meals ready-to-eat – in a matter of minutes. For busier-than-ever consumers, this heat-and-eat speed and convenience is essential.

Understanding the role of packaging for ready-to-eat meal formats such as vending is critical. Even the best ingredients combined into a gourmet meal cannot guarantee a successful vending experience if the meal is not properly packaged to retain freshness, cook evenly and appeal visually to a consumer asked to pay a premium in a category not yet used to such offerings. Experts spend years researching packaging’s performance to develop materials and systems that work in concert with the features available on a particular line of vending equipment, with the primary goal being a better consumer experience.

Retail trials, including an ongoing project with a midwestern college in which culinary program students create gourmet meals and package onsite for sales to fellow students, faculty and others via on-campus vending locations, have demonstrated the value of such thoroughly researched packaging.

With improved variety and better tasting prepared meals that can be sold at higher price points long the industry goal, reception by NAMA attendees and ongoing trials both show packaging that delivers on the experience may finally be able to usher in the gourmet era in vending.