A common facet in our everyday lives, vending machines have been around in the UK for centuries. Vendors are now a prevalent feature in a vast and varied range of locations. Food and drink has dominated the vending industry for decades yet vending machines are now utilised for far more than just hot drinks, cold drinks and snacks. The industry constantly evolves with new and diverse equipment innovations appearing frequently. This expansion seems to know no bounds and shows no signs of letting up anytime soon.
Increasingly referred to as ‘automatic retailing’, modern day vending machines have evolved extensively since their initial conception. The first recorded vending machines in the UK were portable coin operated units that dispensed tobacco, and were operated in England from as early as 1615, typically in taverns K cup packaging machine.
The vast majority of people now associate vending with hot drinks and snacks, however it wasn’t until the 1940’s that our beloved coffee vending machines made an indelible mark on the vending industry. Since their invention in 1946 the hot drinks sector has never looked back, with constant developments and innovations in equipment specifications. The evolution of coffee vendors has been swift and the days of in-cup machines, simplistic box-like machines filled with pre-portioned plastic cups, a pull handle delivery system and hot water button are now, thankfully, a faint and distant memory. In-cup machines reigned supreme for some time however the invention of instant machines swiftly followed. Instant machines were a new entity entirely in that bags of freeze-dried coffee, tea, powdered milk and chocolate products were poured into internal canisters and drinks were freshly mixed within the machine, delivering a much superior drink than that of its in-cup predecessor. The instant coffee machine broadened the horizons of vending and paved the way for future innovations. Its introduction enabled more locations and business types the facility to offer hot drinks. Whilst both great for their time, the in-cup and instant machines were quickly superseded when the bean to cup coffee machine was born. This particular invention revolutionised the coffee industry providing the perfect solution to meet the ever-increasing demand for freshly ground coffee that global high street coffee chains had inspired. Featuring integral coffee grinders, they were a revelation, grinding coffee beans on demand for every drink, from bean to cup and were instantly a huge success. Offering a full coffee shop-style drinks menu and delivering a freshly ground coffee within 25-35 seconds, these machines retained the convenience of vending whilst offering a far superior product. This fully automatic bean to cup breakthrough provided the ideal resolution for environments wishing to offer quality coffee without a skilled Barista, traditional espresso machine and associated paraphernalia. Due to the exceptional quality drink, automatic bean to cup machines presented the opportunity to be both self-serve and counter service and fast became a global sensation.
The creation of the coffee machine was followed in the 1960’s by the chilled canned drinks vendor. Another decade on, and the snack machine was born and their popularity was sealed.
Fifty years on and the proliferation of vending machines is staggering. There are in the region of 400 million vending machines globally and the industry continues to grow and diversify each year. Vending is now utilised to trade a plethora of products, from the ordinary to the extraordinary. There are machines that vend alcohol, shoes, cosmetics, freshly prepared pizzas and ice cream, to name but a few. Japan boast some of the most obscure machines, from live crabs to egg vendors housing live chickens, it appears there’s nothing the Japanese can’t find a way to vend, which may account for the whopping 5.6 million vending machines the country possesses.
A common feature of everyday life; whether buying a drink or a snack or even cosmetics, vending has quite simply conquered the UK and will continue to adapt to modern trends and demands. The mind can only ponder on the diversity of products that will be available from vendors a decade from now. Are there any limits to vending in the UK? Only time will tell.