Can a vending machine solve a supply chain problem? Maybe.
Consider the problem faced by small farmers. There is increasing demand for fresh produce from those who want to eat “local” but it is relatively hard to serve. A small farm with a variety of products may lack the scale to serve local retailers. The farmer could sell at a farmer’s market but that is time consuming or expensive. Either the farmer has to go the market or hire someone in his or her stead.
Enter automation. A German farm has gone to using a vending machine to sell its farm fresh products (Farmers using vending machines to sell produce, springwise.com, Oct 7 ,2009).
The Regiomat machines can be placed outdoors 365 days a year as long as they’re under a roof (some have even been placed alongside hiking trails in Switzerland), effectively giving locals a 24-hour farmers’ market and farmers a lot more free time. By cutting out the middleman, this system also offers potential savings over retail stores. An update to the traditional farm stand that is beneficial to both farmers and local-loving consumers, this is definitely a concept we can see spreading to other parts of the world.
This is definitely an interesting idea, but I wonder how far it can be pushed. In the north burbs of Chicago, virtually every town has a weekly farmer’s market over the summer. Most of the vendors at these events are only “local” if you consider western Michigan part of the Chicago North Shore. These vending machines might work well when farms are truly near by and a farm can easily replenish its machine daily. I am not convinced that they will work as well when the farm is a four hour drive away.
That said, this is much like DVD rentals where a self-service option changes the game in the industry.