Vending
Processors are discovering new opportunities using strategically placed meat vending machines. 
 

Back in mid-May, Rick Reams stirred coast-to-coast news coverage when he installed a refrigerated meat vending machine in front of his Hudson, Wisconsin, RJ’s Meats shop. News of the innovative shopping convenience hit the major news networks and print media throughout the land, and a few other lands as well.

“I had calls from as far away as Australia and people were stopping by to take ‘selfie’ photos with the device,” Reams says. “But the most meaningful event was when I realized it was being used 1,000 times in the first two months.”

Reams notes there were 100 purchases on Father’s Day and that he spent plenty of time on Memorial Day and over the July 4 holiday keeping the machine stocked.

“At this pace, I’m looking at a payback for this investment within two years,” he says. “Maybe about 10 percent of those using it did so because they chose not to wait in line inside our store, but at times the line was six-deep at the machine.”

Meat vending machines are perfect for a variety of meat products including sausage and bacon.
 


Nothing new


The concept of a meat vending machine is not new. Back in 2002, Dan Glier of Glier’s Meats Inc., in Covington, Kentucky, was the sponsor and operator of the Glier’s Goetta Fest held on grounds near his plant just across the river from Cincinnati. The event attracts upwards of 200,000 people each August and pulls in other vendors as well. Glier builds up the inventory for his scrapple-like product for several weeks before the festival and decided to put the home-created vending machine into play for “talk value.” He found that people talked about the Goetta Vending Machine and took lots of photos of it. That image and future conversations keep the company and the product on their minds, he feels.

“That is worth a lot more than a flight of radio spots,” Glier asserts. “Attendees wanted to take some of the product home as well. I found an old soda dispensing machine and converted it to sell 1-lb. packages of our product. Guess you could say we built our own meat vending machine. All the packages were the same size but we had four varieties of flavors. They were the original, a hot version, a low-fat turkey variety and the hottest seller, our bacon Goetta.”

Glier says things worked well for long periods of time, but occasionally a package zig-zagged out of alignment and would not dispense properly. After some adjustments to counter the dispensing problem he eventually opted for a water-bottle style of dispensing unit with a glass front.

“It actually had an arm that would grip the package and take it to a tubular slide where it would drop down for retrieval,” Glier says. “We now load the 1-lb. chubs in clear plastic cylinders that slide down the dispensing tracks just like a soda bottle to improve alignment.”

Glier also uses a graphic hand image that advises customers to “get Goetta.” He also takes the vending machine along when he exhibits at food shows.

At this year’s Goetta Fest, visitors purchased 650 1-lb. rolls of Glier’s product from the machines.

“We sprung for the high-end money changer,” he explains. “It accepts $20 bills and makes change with $5 bills and $1 ‘golden’ presidential coins.”

 

RJ's Meats has had great success selling product from its meat vending machine in front of its retail store, especially over holiday weekends.
 

International interest

Anthony Baechle, of Stuewer GmbH, exhibited his Regiomat meat vending machine for the first time at the American Association of Meat Processors Convention held in late July in Lexington, Kentucky.

The almost standing-room-only booth display generated a great deal of interest. It was packed with meat products from RJ’s Meats. Outside of exhibit hours, Baechle said the meat dispensing systems are popular in his native Germany where they are used to sell everything from fresh eggs to meats. Fresh eggs are the No. 1 seller from machines placed in Germany.

“Many German and European butchers have several of these machines,” he explains. “Some have them near their retail shops. But many place them with their products at locations like schools or universities, outside of liquor stores, in kiosks, marinas, campgrounds and other places where hikers or other people on the move can get those meats.”

Baechle says the vending machines can be custom painted or use graphics to identify the shop and the products themselves. He adds that most meat products are not frozen, but kept at temperatures above freezing. The machines can be purchased outright or leased and can take both cash and credit cards. They are not affected by outside temperatures, but he warns that frontal glass, if exposed to direct sunlight, could interfere with proper storage temperature or shelf life.

The Regiomat features variable shelves that can be adjusted to fit products of variable sizes. He was so impressed with the response in Kentucky that his company is looking for a US-based distributor and service company.

Reams agrees and says he intends to put a roof over his machine to help maintain optimum internal temperature for his products.

Reams says his average sale is $6.77 and that about 75 percent of his sales are made by customers using credit cards.

He is pleased with the variability of the compartment sizes and notes that he can put 18 units of items like snack sticks per row. He features nine flavors of snack sticks. He also merchandizes items like several varieties of brats and bacon in 12-oz. packages, cheese curds and summer sausages. He and his son Joe are looking into the idea of putting together cooked pot roasts with vegetables and gravy and similar items that could transform the machine from a snack vending unit to one that dispenses fully prepared meals.

Reams says the machines cost in the range of $25,000, depending on options, and that he is considering installing them at off-premises locations.

“With the reasonable payback time for a machine we purchased, this could be like opening other stores for our products without all the property investment,” he contends. “I don’t believe that we have taken anything away from our store sales, but really added about a 10 percent increase in overall sales. It makes our product available to those driving by at a time convenient to them when our store is closed.”

Reams is also pleased with the security link and camera that connects to his cell phone. It enables him to monitor customer reaction to the machine and also alert him to the need to restock certain products.

“I try to rotate or replace any product that has been in the machine for more than a few days,” he continues. “Following that kind of schedule, I can rework the product through the retail counter but can rest assured that the quality coming out of the machine is always as good as that coming across our in-store service counter.”