Intelligent Vending Machines: The Future of Convenient, Healthy Snacking

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Vending machines can be convenient, but that’s not new. But how they are even more useful to consumers is evolving. Of course, the traditional model is: You insert your coins, choose your snack, and cross your fingers that it doesn’t get stuck on the way down. But now vending machines can anticipate consumer cravings and needs before you even realize them. Yes, artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the grab-and-go food industry as well.

The concept of intelligent vending machines

Aslak de Silva, CEO of Selfly Store, on episode 667 of “The Business Storytelling Show,” describes their intelligent vending machines, or micro-stores, as designed to predict consumer demand based on various factors.

“Wherever you have Selfly Stores, there are different parameters that tell the machines consumers are coming and there’s a demand,” Aslak explains.

For consumers, the process is straightforward. They use a credit card or mobile payment to open the door, grab their desired items, and close the door. The machine automatically charges them for what they take. Behind the scenes, AI works to ensure the right products are available when needed.

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Predicting consumer demand with AI

Selfly Store gathers data from its customers in over 20 European countries to forecast what will sell and when. For instance, if a machine is located in an office building, it might stock more sandwiches and salads during lunch hours. On a hot day, the demand for beverages might surge. The AI analyzes data from multiple sources to make these predictions.

Aslak provides an example of how Selfly Store uses data from various sources to predict demand. “Let’s say that we have different cabinets of Taylor Swift tours around the world. When Taylor Swift happens to come to locations where there are Selfly Stores, we can mark it in the data. Then we use that information for the next location where Taylor Swift might be around.”

Selfly Store optimizes its data by examining similar locations. “Let’s say we work with EV charging stations,” Aslak elaborates. “It’s clear that people will be coming in at certain times, and there’s data for different times of the day.” This information helps anticipate what people will buy and when.

The importance of data in AI predictions

Accurate predictions rely on having the right data in a meaningful format.

“If you look at any normal grocery store or kiosk, thousands of different items are sold,” Aslak said. “The data wouldn’t make sense if it just showed somebody bought one Snickers bar and one Pepsi Max.”

His intelligent vending machines prioritize item categories and trends to help merchants stock the right products at the right time, boosting sales and customer satisfaction. The AI examines data from various locations, considering factors like weather and events, to provide recommendations to merchants.

Benefiting merchants and reducing waste

Intelligent vending machines offer numerous advantages to merchants. They minimize theft and shrinkage, as the machines precisely track inventory without the need for manual counts. Additionally, they help reduce waste, particularly with fresh food.

“The system would know the expiry date for the salad or fresh sandwiches you put in,” Aslak says. “It can automatically discount items close to expiring, limiting food waste.”

If an item passes its expiration date, the machine can lock the door until it’s removed, preventing customers from purchasing spoiled products.

Another example Aslak provides is how the AI can help hotels prepare for unexpected weather changes.

“Many have liked the example of hotels and when it starts to rain. Often this is known to all of us that it might rain, but we seldom really prepare for that. With this kind of predictiveness in the data, the AI could recommend, ‘Hey, why don’t you stock 10 umbrellas? It’s a safe bet.'”

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The rise of fresh and healthy options

While vending machines are often linked to junk food, fresh and healthy choices are becoming more common and even expected.

“More than 50 percent of the items sold from our cabinets are fresh foods,” Aslak shares. “They can be healthy salads, sandwiches, and portions like bowls.”

This shift towards healthier options is enabled by the technology powering intelligent vending machines. They manage expiration dates, track stocking, and maintain precise inventory, creating opportunities for merchants to provide a broader range of fresh, healthy, grab-and-go meals.

Where intelligent vending machines are making an impact

Intelligent vending machines are appearing in diverse locations, from EV charging stations and hospitals to hotels and offices. They offer a swift and convenient way for people to access food and drinks without waiting in line or navigating limited hours.

Hospitals, for example, can leverage intelligent vending machines to provide round-the-clock options for staff, patients, and visitors. Hotels can offer fresh food to guests who may need more time for a restaurant visit, while offices can supply a variety of meals and snacks without a full cafeteria.

These machines also find a place in factories and other settings where traditional food service may be limited.

“We have factories and others where nobody’s providing service anymore,” Aslak said.  “There’s no hot food available at night. But with this kind of  model, you can still have fresh food there.”

The future of grab-and-go

More intelligent and customer-centric changes can certainly be expected. Intelligent vending machines are just the start, providing a glimpse into a future where convenience and personalization intersect.

With the growing adoption of AI-powered vending machines, accessing a quick, healthy meal on the go has never been more effortless. As more merchants embrace this technology, we can eagerly await a world where our favorite snacks and meals are always just a few taps away.

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