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The Washington Post has a story about how "the pandemic has rocketed vending machines into new territory," with "vending machines, robotic kiosks and other grab-and-go technology now broadly called 'unattended retail' … putting artisanal pizza, hot bowls of ramen and prime cuts of beef into the hands of consumers 24/7."

In the words of Carla Balakgie, chief executive of the National Automatic Merchandising Association, “It’s touchless, it’s considered safe and it’s prepackaged so products haven’t been fondled and breathed on.  And technology has made it even safer: Some machines have a hover feature so you don’t have to touch the buttons and you can use an app on your phone or use mobile ordering."

According to the story, "She said adoption in the past year has been swiftest by first responders needing sustenance on the go, but what might have previously been novelty “stunt” vending machines at trade shows are becoming normalized as regular avenues of commerce: bread-baking machines, customize-your-yogurt machines, even machines that dispense slippers, mascara and sundries at airports."

One example:  "Luke Saunders, founder of Farmer’s Fridge, a chain of Chicago-area refrigerated kiosks that sells healthy bowls and salads in jars among other items, says he’s doubled the number of kiosks the business has in airports.

"'So many airport restaurants have been closed that it created an opportunity for us. People have shifted their mindset to being more comfortable using an app and doing digital ordering,' he said."

KC's View:

Of course, the airports have to see some robust growth for this to make sense…

That said, there's reason to think that advances in technology will enable these futuristic vending machines to offer a wide range of foods.  This may provide a range of retailers - from convenience stores to restaurants - to expand not just the range of foods they offer, but their times of availability.  And, it'll create potentially powerful competition to traditional food retail.

Me, I'll really impressed when they come up with one of Star Trek's replicators, and I can say to one, "Earl Grey.  Hot."