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The Next Generation of Vending Machines

Is this the next logical step in our ongoing quest for convenience or does it make accessing foodstuffs more complicated than it should be?

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Vending machine

Full-color vending machine. Image courtesy of Flickr user Straws pulled at random.

The old method of getting goodies from a vending machine is being revamped by the Pepsi Corporation with its new Social Vending System. Dispensing with clunky slots for coins and bills in favor of a touchscreen that allows you to look at the nutritional information of the products therein, this new species of machine is also hopping on the social networking bandwagon: people can use the machines to send drinks to friends, complete with personalized text and video messages. (The recipient gets a message on a cell phone and they have to go to a Social Vending Machine and enter a code to redeem the gift.) But because you have to enter telephone numbers to use the social features of the machine, questions arise about how personal data is stored and used, an issue inherent in all social media. At this time, Pepsi says that personal data will not be stored unless the user grants permission.

Is this the next logical step in our ongoing quest for convenience or does it make accessing foodstuffs more complicated than it should be? Corporate efforts to create glowing vending-machine eye candy have a long and sometimes ridiculous history. (If you have the patience, this mid-century video walks you through the ins and outs of vending machine salesmanship.) Would you go to a machine for any of the following things?

1. Lobster

This variation on the claw machine arcade game may very well be the greatest visual pun in food marketing. That’s right: you use your gaming skills to catch your own live lobster; however, if you are fortunate enough to nab one of the skittering crustaceans, you may find yourself in a bit of a pickle. Apparently takeaway bags aren’t a standard part of the machine rig, so you may need to bring your own.

2. Eggs

Farmers who sell their eggs directly to consumers can pop a vending machine at the entrance of their property and passersby can drop in their money and walk away with a tray of farm fresh goods. Some famers have even noticed an increased demand for their products since installing the machine. The German branch of PETA offered its own variation, placing live hens in the machine to make a statement about the living conditions of these animals on farms.

3. Wine

In 2010, Pennsylvania unveiled two wine vending machines—however, users have to swipe their ID and pass a breathalyzer test before they can lay their hands on a bottle of vino. And if you have wine aficionados for friends, would you ever tell them that you’re serving them something that came from a vending machine?

4. Pecan Pie

The Bedroll Pecan Farm, Candy and Gift Company in Cedar Creek, Texas offers its wares via a vending machine, from a 9″ Pecan pie to pecan brittle.

5. An entire mini grocery run

The Shop 2000 allows users to buy toiletries, milk, snack items and other convenience store fare. In 2002, one of these machines was installed in D.C. near the intersection of 18th St. NW and California St. under the name Tik Tok Easy Shop. (It no longer existed as of 2003)

And for more on unique vending machines, check out Around the Mall blogger Megan Gambino’s piece on the Art-o-Mat, which sells you works of art out of a revamped and refurbished cigarette machines.

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