During the heady days of the full-line vending revolution, a small number of operators labored diligently to win recognition from suppliers for vending as a distinct retailing channel. The major candy, chewing gum, soft drink and cigarette companies did not need to be convinced of this, but purveyors of food and hot beverages persistently offended this dedicated band of vendors. They insisted that advertising and publicity illustrations of vendible food not show the product on a china plate with a tablecloth beneath it, but rather, in a disposable container of the sort that would be dispensed by a refrigerated vending machine. Similarly, hot beverages should be depicted in poly-lined paper hot cups, not in china or other ceramic vessels on saucers. Even candy companies who produced “vending” versions of their popular confections sometimes came under fire for designing wrappers with the type oriented along the length of the package – which would be hard to read when the product was stood on its short side in the “dead” display window of the candy venders of that era.
Some of the arguments made by those pioneers still resonate today; for example, why do we not see television commercials in which attractive young people buy branded coffee from a vending machine? That was hard to answer in 1967, and it’s no easier now. But, in general, the steady movement of vending into the retailing mainstream has resolved most of the concerns over package design. Vending patrons nowadays often can choose to get their coffee in a china cup, if they want to; and the predominance of single-serve convenience food has built such familiarity and acceptance that the public no longer needs accurate illustrations.
At the same time, however, it might be argued that these gains are offset by certain losses. When fresh-brew coffee vending was new, the roasters who understood the potential volume and wanted their share of it spent a good deal of time and effort helping operators to understand the characteristics of coffee, and their drivers to clean and adjust each machine to produce the best possible finished drink. While some roasters would not provide channel markers for their brands, fearing that careless route service might damage customer perception of their quality, the more sensible ones were eager for the additional exposure, and recognized that vending operators really were no more likely than restaurateurs to degrade the product. Operators, especially those who were strongly committed to excellent coffee, prized those roasters accordingly. But as the technology has grown more reliable, interest in what actually happens in the machine seems to have diminished. If this industry is to benefit from the ongoing upswing in coffee quality knowledge, we need to recapture the excitement and curiosity of four decades ago.
And, for as long as we can remember, some operators have seen an opportunity to vend something or other that’s a bit unusual. A good many of them have experienced more or less difficulty in persuading the producer to sell it to them. The operator wants a theater-size package, and is told that he can’t have it because he is in the wrong class of trade. The operator wants to aggregate orders for two lines made by the same supplier, but cannot, because two different sales forces are responsible for the lines, and the supplier can’t figure out how to overcome the resulting administrative difficulty. The operator sees an attractive specialty item that’s not offered in vending, finds and contacts the manufacturer, and is told that he can’t buy it because the company does not make a “vending” line.
The advent of “large single serving” packages and growing recognition of the capabilities of modern vending equipment seem to be working, very gradually, to overcome this annoyance. But that the annoyance can exist at all points up the ongoing problem that too many people whose livelihoods ultimately depend on sales don’t make selling their top priority. If they did, they’d be eager to learn what someone wants to buy, and when they found out, they’d look for a way to sell it at a fair profit. All too often, though, the should-be seller has reasons for confining his efforts to selling what he wants to sell, without regard for what prospective customers want to buy. And that is always a mistake, no matter who makes it.