Fastcorp is shaking things up with its robotic Evolution machines that, until recently, have been confined to frozen vending. New technologies and product categories expand vending capabilities, and might create some novel business opportunities.
Topping the news is the Danbury, CT, machine manufacturer's launch of its Dual-Asset Evolution vender. This model maintains the vacuum robotic arm and base-mounted temperature-controlled chest design of Fastcorp's signature frozen machine, but expands the temperature range to -20°F to 65°F. This gives operators the flexibility to vend products at frozen, refrigerated or ambient temperatures.
Dual-Asset Evolutions set to refrigerated temperatures for fresh food applications can accommodate sandwiches and salads of all shapes and sizes, in addition to beverages and chips. A simple adjustment to the digital controller transforms the vender into a frozen machine that can vend microwaveable convenience foods and ice cream. Products can be stocked and stored frozen, or slacked in machines set to refrigerated temperatures.
One way in which Fastcorp is harnessing this new flexibility is to accommodate the "soft-freeze" category in its machines, which spearheads the sale of ready-to-drink milkshakes in vending. The company has teamed up with two suppliers of prepackaged shakes to deliver a turnkey program to operators.
One of these partners is Archibald Frozen Desserts (New Albany, IN), whose Ready Shake ready-serve milkshakes are merchandised in a dedicated branded Evolution machine configured to a soft-freeze temperature of 5°F. The shakes dispense at a thicker consistency than the typical milkshake, which some consumers prefer. Those who favor a more traditional liquid milkshake can slack the product for three to five minutes at room temperature to reduce its viscosity. Archibald is also planning to add a smoothie line that will complement the vendible shakes.
photo | FILL, SEAL & VEND: Portion-packed milkshakes come off packaging line at Archibald Frozen Desserts plant for sale through new Fastcorp machine. Held at "soft freeze" temperatures, the shakes need no customer preparation beyond a brief thaw.
Fastcorp president Todd Piatnik said that, since the shakes require no special customer-operated blending equipment of the sort used to prepare many competing products sold in c-stores, the Ready Shakes are well suited for transient high-traffic locations in the retail, hospitality, amusement and leisure sectors, as well as employee breakrooms. He foresees "tremendous profit and placement opportunities for these brands," citing case studies of c-stores selling more than 90 units a day of prepackaged shakes that require preparation by the consumer, using a special self-serve blender dedicated to the purpose.
A second Fastcorp partner in the new soft-serve category is Cold Cow Ice Cream (West Mifflin, PA). Its packaged shakes are formulated to allow microwaving for 40 seconds or less to attain the desired consistency. A second option is for the customer to thaw the drink for about 15 minutes at room temperature without microwaving it. The milkshakes can be dispensed frozen from Fastcorp's generic Evolution machines and are also a featured product in its Cafe2Go frozen combo food and ice cream vender.
Cold Cow Ice Cream's milkshakes are also now part of Fastcorp's multi-brand rebate, called Cold Hard Cash 7. With the purchase of a generic Evolution machine, operators qualify for rebates from Fastcorp food and ice cream manufacturer partners, which also include White Castle and Blue Bunny, among others, with a vend value of more than $2,000.
Fastcorp has also expanded the Café2Go menu with the 4 Hombres brand of authentic Mexican burritos in several varieties. They're made by Vernon, CA-based Camino Real Kitchens, which is also a new partner in the rebate program.
Another new application for the Dual-Asset Evolution is the Candy Shoppe-branded dedicated confection vender, available in ambient and refrigerated versions with eye-catching graphics.
photo | FULL RANGE: Evolution automation technology is now applied (from left) to frozen, refrigerated and ambient vending applications.
Fastcorp has broadened its range of high-impact machine graphics, from universal to specific, to communicate to patrons, whether products are ambient, refrigerated or frozen.
Its LunchBox Healthy vender is emblazoned with appetizing photography featuring fresh fruit, salads and wraps for refrigerated fresh food applications. However, since the machine still has the capability to vend frozen food, it can be easily rebranded with other graphics, should the operator wish to change the application.
Cafe2Go is Fastcorp's generic combo frozen food and ice cream brand. It features vivid chef-themed graphics that convey that food is on the menu, but does not indicate whether the product is frozen or refrigerated, so it can be used for either application.
Chillzone is another generic graphics package suitable for frozen or refrigerated applications. It conveys a hip, active, healthy lifestyle through vibrant colors and images of teens engaged in extreme sports.
"Kids are turned off by having 'healthy' labeling, so it is implied on this machine and is popular, especially in schools and leisure and amusement accounts," explained Fastcorp marketing director Al Roque.
The vending machine manufacturer also markets a dedicated Mini Melts model. Together with the ice cream maker, it is ramping up its efforts to help both full-line vending and amusement operators identify and secure nontraditional accounts for the cryogenically frozen ice cream bead venders, according to Piatnik.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. recently expanded a Mini Melts vending pilot to its Walmart retail outlets in 12 states, with further expansion a strong possibility. Fastcorp and Mini Melts said they anticipate that there will be an opportunity for independent operators to service them (see sidebar below).
On the engineering front, Fastcorp is wrapping up a beta test of a touchscreen application for Evolution machines that will become available on a limited scale early in the new year. The high-tech display, tested at sites in Danbury, serves as dynamic user interface, provides nutritional information, runs promotions, enables cross marketing and incorporates mobile payments. It also possesses social media capabilities that Fastcorp said it is keeping under wraps, since they include proprietary technology developed by a supplier outside the industry. The panel sizes available to operators will vary based on the application, ranging from small 7" screens to full-front displays.
"The overall results of the beta test have provided a wealth of information regarding the multiple functions the touchscreen applications can offer," said Fastcorp sales manager Joe Williamson, a 20-year industry veteran who recently joined the company and has played a key role in implementing the touchscreen program. "The results have validated a great ground-floor platform with future applications evolving into the Fastcorp equipment. The commercialization of this product introduction is proprietary, with release in selected market segments forecast for the first quarter of 2013. Look for additional information regarding market channel releases to be forthcoming. Stay tuned!"
In other news, Fastcorp has modified Evolution's machine door by moving its payment systems and delivery port to comply with the new Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines. The modified machines began shipping in April.
Roque said these enhancements, and the new refrigerated capability, have helped Fastcorp strengthen its partnerships with state Business Enterprise Programs and the blind vending operators they serve. Another big selling point, he added, is Evolution's energy-efficient design: only the chest in which the products are stored requires refrigeration.
"The Evolution technology is perfectly suited for many government and scholastic placements, exceeding requirements for energy usage, ease of use and simple maintenance," said Roque. "We have established direct procurement relationships with many state agencies, and have renewed our commitment to help support and drive vending initiatives for blind vend operators." He added that Fastcorp is a corporate sponsor of the National Federation of the Blind.
In light of its many new advances, Piatnik said Fastcorp is aggressively pursuing new market opportunities with its direct salesforce and, in some areas, through partnerships with resellers.
He said the company has begun restructuring existing distributor relationships and developing new ones in key geographic regions. It's also rolling out a Preferred Distributor Partnerships program, through which select distributors will collaborate with Fastcorp to design and administer promotions and other initiatives to co-develop their markets.
"There is tremendous potential due to Fastcorp's vending versatility, reliability and energy-efficient design," Williamson said. "Adding state-of-the-art enhancements to the mix will help drive all our initiatives with brand manufacturers, and with national, independent and startup operators."