MORRIS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Slated for rollout at the National Automatic Merchandising Association 2002 National Expo in Atlanta is "The Incredible Snack Machine" from Fastcorp. The new snack vender applies Fastcorp's proven vacuum robotic technology to the task of boosting sales while reducing service frequency.
"The Incredible Snack Machine" vends snacks and confections from vertical product bins, open at the top, seated in the base of the vender. Overhead rails carry a vacuum arm, driven by X-Y positioning motors under computer control. When a selection is made, the controller positions the arm over the bin that contains the desired item and lowers a suction hose to seize the package, then raises it for transport to the product delivery area, where the item is released into the delivery chute.
This system has been perfected by Fastcorp in its ice cream and frozen food vender, the "F631," where the product storage density and base-mounted freezer chest offer real advantages in temperature maintenance and protection of product against loss of refrigeration. As implemented in "The Incredible Snack Machine," the principle offers other advantages: efficient use of the entire width and depth of the cabinet, as well as space-to-sales flexibility unattainable with conventional snack equipment, the company reported.
The new snack machine features a space-age rounded front with a large backlit display panel. That panel accepts slip-in full-color product photographs depicting the selections available. The transilluminated display attracts attention from a distance, conveying the appearance and appeal of a glassfront machine. And the new snack vender incorporates the same guaranteed product delivery feature that has been standard on Fastcorp's frozen venders for the past seven years, insuring that the customer either will receive the selected item or a choice between a refund and the opportunity to make another selection.
"The Incredible Snack Machine" has been extensively field-tested over the past year. The operation conducting the test, Advanced Vending Systems (Ringgold, GA), uses DEX-capable route computers to collect line-item transaction data, and thus has been able to compare the performance of the new Fastcorp design with conventional six-shelf snack venders. The company uses Rutherford & Associates software in the context of MEI's "EasiTrax" suite of management solutions.
The test began last November with 90 Fastcorp machines, stocked with a product selection equivalent to that offered by the glassfront venders. Most of Advanced Vending's "Incredible Snack Machines" are configured to offer 40 selections.
Advanced Vending president Dennis Thornton told VT that one immediate advantage gained by the operation is the greater useful capacity of the Fastcorp design. It can hold at least three times as much product as a conventional snack vender, so machines require restocking one-third as frequently.
Thornton explained that, because the product bins have very high capacity (for example, 72 "Pop-Tarts" or 100 bags of "M&M's"), product levels can be adjusted to insure that enough product is stocked to meet the known demand.
As a result, Advanced Vending has been able to design routes that serve about three times as many locations with the same expenditure of labor. Thornton reported that bins are prepacked in the warehouse, and carried from the route truck into the location on specially constructed "sleds" that fit onto the company's "Magliner" hand trucks.
During the test, the driver has been pulling all the bins on each service, and replacing them with fresh ones. This takes about 10 minutes, Thornton said, considerably less time than a driver needs to do a professional job of restocking a conventional glassfront machine.
Thornton reported that the initial route test was impressive. The route chosen for the test consisted of 42 machines, including some ice cream and refrigerated "M&M's" venders as well as more than 30 conventional glassfront snack machines. The new Fastcorp machines replaced the existing glassfront machines, and the company began to track the results.
An early finding was that the driver was getting back to headquarters a lot earlier, Thornton said. "He said, 'I'm working on commission, so give me some more stops', and we did," the Advanced Vending president recalled. This process has continued, and that route now consists of 93 machines. Moreover, the success of the initial trial was so great that the company increased placements of the new Fastcorp machines; it now has 210 of them on location.
The average snack machine collection for the conventional equipment, on its frequent-service schedule, was $183 per service. "The Incredible Snack Machine" has been averaging $633 per less frequent service. The increase in route density and decrease in "windshield time" per service obviously has decreased the per-machine route labor cost substantially.
"The Fastcorp snack machine measurably drives costs out of our operation," Thornton emphasized. "And it increases customer satisfaction, primarily by eliminating out-of-stock conditions."
Patron acceptance of "The Incredible Snack Machine" has been outstanding, Fastcorp concurred. In addition to providing insurance against selling out of a popular item, the machine's guaranteed product delivery feature also builds customer confidence, and repeat sales.
The vender is designed to accommodate bins configured to hold a variety of package sizes and shapes, so product variety can be tailored precisely to location tastes. Advanced Vending posts a plan-o-gram on the inside of the machine door, and gives the driver a printed copy. This makes it simple to place the prepacked bins in the correct positions, quickly and easily.
The use of four-color photographs rather than live-product display also creates the need for transparencies depicting each product. Fastcorp is working in partnership with snack food manufacturers, including producers of regional favorites, to obtain the necessary photographs, print them on suitable translucent film stock and furnish them to operators, just as it does with the graphics for its popular "F631" frozen venders.
Thornton observed that an operator adopting the new technology will experience an initial need for more inventory in the field, since the Fastcorp machine can hold up to 2,000 items. In fact, this simply front-loads the inventory pipeline; once the machines are stocked, replacement of inventory is the same as it would be for any machine, although sales velocity is rather greater.
"The most expensive thing we do is run route vehicles," he summed up. "Fuel cost, labor cost, and the cost of wear and tear on our trucks will not decrease any time in the foreseeable future. The new Fastcorp machine has helped us a lot by increasing route productivity, both by decreasing service frequency and by increasing per-machine sales." He believes that the new design has the potential to transform vending operations, making them much more profitable.
"The Incredible Snack Machine," and Fastcorp's extensively-redesigned ice cream and frozen food venders, will be on display in Booth 1118 at the NAMA National Expo in Atlanta. The new frozen machine retains Fastcorp's patented chest-freezer design and robotic vacuum-arm product delivery system, which eliminates the need for any moving parts in the frozen storage area. New is a faster vend cycle, a stylish, contemporary rounded-front design, and full MDB capability on board.
Information may be had from the manufacturer at 1 Cory Road, Morris Twp., NJ 07960, tel. (973) 455-0400, fax (973) 455-7401.