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Last NAMA Spring Expo Concludes 50-Year Tradition On A High Note

by Emily Jed and Tim Sanford
Posted On: 4/22/2009

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Vending, Vending Machine, Automated Retailing, Coin-Op, Office Coffee Service, Foodservice, National Automatic Merchandising Association, NAMA, Spring Expo, Richard Geerdes, Dan Mathews, Jackie Clark, Automated Merchandising Systems, Crane Mervhandising Systems, Dixie-Narco, Fastcorp, Jofemar, Kraft, U-Select-It

LAS VEGAS -- The National Automatic Merchandising Association's final Spring Expo, held here at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on April 16-17, was hailed by show organizers, operators and suppliers alike as one of the strongest in years, in terms of attendance, innovation and positive "buzz" on the show floor. The Spring Expo dates back to 1959, when NAMA held its first Western convention and trade show in conjunction with the California Automatic Vendors Council.

NAMA plans to combine the traditional Spring and National Expos into a single event, tentatively called OneShow, in 2010. The inaugural unified convention and exposition is set for April 28-30 at Chicago's McCormick Place. Plans call for returning to Chicago in 2011, and alternating between Chicago (and perhaps other eastern and Midwestern cities) and Las Vegas thereafter.

"The NAMA Spring Expo was a remarkable success, particularly given the current economy and general business environment," said NAMA executive vice-president and COO Dan Mathews, who reported that exhibitors and showgoers similarly had told him that the show exceeded their expectations.

"But this is just the beginning," Mathews emphasized, "because we're already hard at work on the National Expo to make sure it builds on the success of this show, and delivers even more tools and resources to help our industry grow and prosper." The 2009 National Expo will be held at Chicago's Navy Pier from September 23 to 25.

Mathews also commended Jackie Clark of Clark Communications for generating an enormous amount of image-enhancing media coverage about the show, including an upcoming segment with CBS's Bill Geist that will run on CBS News Sunday Morning this weekend.

Steve Hyde of Newco was one of many exhibitors who expressed satisfaction with the Spring Expo. "I came to the Spring Expo gun-shy as an exhibitor with lower expectations, given the economy. I thought attendance would be down 25% to 35%," he said. "As it turns out, the first day was one of the best days ever in our booth. And I've been incredibly impressed with the amount of new equipment and product I'm seeing all over the show floor."

Another pleased exhibitor was Tom Hutchison of Automated Merchandising Systems, who observed: "This show has been like a 'condensed' NAMA, with the water taken out of it. The people who are here are seriously looking to invest to grow their businesses, and there's a lot of new stuff here for them to see."

"I was concerned that this show wouldn't measure up to previous years, given the economy, but it has been huge for us -- nonstop busy," remarked 5-Hour Energy's Brandon Bohland. "People are here to find new and creative ways to increase their sales in their machines, and they're very interested in our energy shots as an incremental opportunity."

Leading off the program at the Spring Expo General Session, NAMA president and chief executive Richard Geerdes acknowledged that the industry's challenges have led the association to reassess its priorities and rethink the use of its resources in order to most effectively carry its members through a difficult economy. "We are in times many of us have never seen, and the industry is hurting like everyone else," he said. "NAMA, like all of you, has had to cut back and had to do more with less, and re-strategize to provide the true support and leadership needed going forward."

Topping NAMA's agenda, according to Geerdes, is its commitment to ramping up its government affairs efforts. "Government affairs is the lifeblood of NAMA; we have always been strong with both offense and defense to deflect potentially harmful legislation and get things changed," he noted. "Now we're going to get in front of the issues in a proactive way, with a stronger state presence and a stronger presence in Washington, DC."

He reported that the association is seeking a national vice-president of government relations (or a professional consulting organization) to succeed senior vice-president and chief counsel Tom McMahon, who is retiring this spring. "We're going to take the game up a notch on the legislative front, to level the playing field so you can all be the competitive retailers you are," he pledged.

Observing that NAMA cannot solve every problem for everyone, he emphasized that it can, does and will provide the support operators need to solve a great many. "We can make strides in building the industry's image and increasing consumer respect," the NAMA chief executive officer reported.

New efforts to enhance the industry's image thus will be a priority in the months ahead. "We're a convenience business, and we haven't done a good enough job telling the story of all vending has to offer," he stated. "There will be a new and vibrant image and PR campaign; we're going to re-brand the industry story and give you the tools to help tell it because you're the face of the industry."

NAMA's third key focal point will be office coffee service, a segment of the industry that Geerdes said "is running ahead of the pack." The association has established its Coffee Service Education Summit, first presented last year, as an annual event and expanded its programming. The second run is set for Cherry Hill, NJ, June 15-17. NAMA's future OCS efforts will include revitalizing its training and certification program and developing a user-friendly operations manual to educate staff and train new talent. The 2010 Coffee Service Education Summit is set for September in Las Vegas.

Finally, the move to the single-show format will provide greater value to the industry, Geerdes emphasized. "It will be a new look, a new feel with a 'wow' format and schedule; it will be the biggest and brightest event you've ever seen," he promised. "There will be a real sizzle in what you can see and do while you're there. It will be something you can't afford to miss; that's our goal.

"We'll test drive ideas for the new format in the fall," the association president disclosed. September's convention and trade show at Chicago's Navy Pier will be NAMA's last formal National Expo.

"Zeroing in on these priorities will allow NAMA to make the biggest impact on critical areas to get through to better times," Geerdes concluded. "Our industry has to change and evolve to survive."

The final NAMA Spring Expo was noteworthy for introductions of innovative equipment and novel products. Among the new machines attracting operator attention at the exhibit were the following:

Automated Merchandising Systems unveiled its SlimGem snack vender, which measures just 28.5" wide to meet the needs of smaller sites, or any locations where space is at a premium. Offering a three-across product selection for a wide variety in a narrow space, the machine stands 72" tall and measures 29.5" deep. Parts are interchangeable with most other AMS equipment. It is highlighted by new silver-look styling and, while the traditional description of its configuration would be "three-wide," AMS prefers to call it "three-narrow."

Branded Vending Concepts showed a preproduction model of an automated bulk vending machine, a full-sized vender manufactured by Italy's Ducale that delivers preprogrammed portions of bulk products -- from nuts, pan candy or gum to breakfast cereal -- in a cup. The products are held in transparent vertical tubes visible to the patron through a front window. The machine may be installed as a satellite to a cold drink or combination vender delivering milk, making the cereal option attractive. It offers up to five selections, and is slated for rollout in the United States this fall.

Dixie-Narco highlighted its new BevMax 3 (Model 5800-4), which officials say exceeds Energy Star Tier 2 standards and operates at twice the energy efficiency of machines produced five years ago. Along with its new high-performance R-134a CFC-free refrigeration system, the enhanced 45-select, 360-capacity glassfront beverage vender features a new recessed membrane keypad for improved tactile feedback and increased vertical shelf height. The low-profile modular refrigeration platform may be removed from the front or the back of the machine for simplified maintenance. BevMax 3 uses a swift, gentle product delivery elevator than vends a drink in eight seconds. Dixie-Narco is a business unit of Crane Merchandising Systems, which also teamed up with Kraft Foods to unveil a snack vender equipped with a Samsung 42" flat-panel touchscreen monitor in place of the usual glassfront.

Fastcorp displayed the latest implementation of its novel robotic frozen product vender, the Evolution iScream4ic. This is the fourth generation of Fastcorp machines incorporating an efficient base-mounted freezer chest and a computer-positioned vacuum pickup. When a vend is initiated, a robot arm opens the freezer lid and the vacuum pickup retrieves the desired product for delivery to the customer. The new model is said to feature even greater energy efficiency, higher-impact merchandising, a larger delivery chute for a wider variety of package sizes, and a completely reengineered high-performance cabinet.

Jofemar USA introduced two narrow form factor machines at the Spring Expo. The Multiseller Plus is a 31"-wide machine that fits easily through narrow doorways. It can vend a wide variety of products of different shapes and package formats, and may be adjusted to vend ambient or refrigerated product. Multiseller Plus can display as many as 56 selections. Also new at the show was Jofemar's Easy Lunch, a refrigerated food vender measuring 31" wide and accommodating 307 items (30 selections) in its standard configuration. It can be upgraded to 67 selections. Using CFC-free R134a refrigerant, Easy Lunch runs on 110-115VAC and draws only 8A. It is extensively programmable. Both machines incorporate Jofemar's famous Easy Flex horizontal-conveyor delivery system which, combined with easily adjustable dividers, speeds and simplifies menu changes involving different package sizes. Both measure 37" deep.

Keurig, a division of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, showed two approaches to vending its portion-pack K-Cups, developed in cooperation with Multi-max Distributed Vending Systems and Fastcorp. Multi-max produces a 25-select countertop machine that, like all Multi-max venders, accepts preloaded magazines for fast location service; this one holds 250 K-Cups in a horizontal 5x5 array of tubes, 10 K-Cups per tube. A number of payment systems are available for the Multi-max Payment Station that can attach to the side, and can control as many as four machines. Fastcorp has developed a full-sized bankable machine that uses its novel XYZ-positionable vacuum arm to pick up and deliver a chosen K-Cup from a vertical array of tall tubes; the model displayed in the Green Mountain exhibit offered 12 selections. The two machines offer operators solutions for installing Keurig commercial single-cup brewers when the location wishes to sell the product rather than supply it for free.

Kiddie Castle launched a "kid-friendly" glassfront machine and a line of products designed to meet the away-from-home needs of parents with infants and small children. The machine, stocked with a variety of items from diapers and first-aid supplies through healthy snacks to toys and activities, is manufactured by Automated Merchandising Systems, and is made highly visible by its castellated battlements. It's fitted with a remote monitoring system that also enables cashless vending, produced by inOne Technology. Kiddie Castle is primarily intended for such sites as airports and other transportation hubs, amusement parks and similar venues, and malls and other high-traffic public locations.

Kraft Foods drew crowds for a first look at its state-of-the-art "digi-touch" touchscreen snack vender, developed in collaboration with Crane Merchandising Systems, Samsung and Digitas, a leading e-marketing company. Highlighted by a 46" LCD touchscreen panel front and controlled by an embedded networked computer, the machine features Samsung's uVending technology, which mainly consists of the LCD and networked computer. UVending is designed to deliver animated and interactive advertising, as well as video content and promotional offers that can change dynamically, based on scheduling or on a machine-by-machine basis. Additionally, the uVending platform showcases product selections on screen with 360° views and information on nutrition and ingredients at the touch of a button. The diji-touch vender is expected to begin a market test in the second half of 2009.

La Pizza Presto introduced a gourmet pizza vender that holds individual round pizzas frozen, then re-thermalizes one for serving in 90 seconds by means of a radiant infrared oven. Pizzas are supplied 70% finished and individually quick frozen for fast, consistent heating, and the machine is fitted with extensive self-diagnostic and remote monitoring capabilities. Its user interface is a small touchscreen monitor, and the front is highlighted by a 1.06m (42") plasma monitor that can deliver entertainment, news headlines and advertising, providing an additional revenue stream.

SandenVendo showcased a prototype version of the third generation of its revolutionary Pouchlink beverage vender. Designed to offer the operator the profit from finishing a cold drink, Pouchlink mixes a single serving of bag-in-box drink concentrate, then delivers the portion in a resealable pouch. The whole process is visible to the patron through a glass-viewing window. Third-generation enhancements include a peristaltic pump to ensure consistent dosing of beverage concentrate, as well as a patented automatic ozonated water cleaning cycle. Four prototypes are currently being tested to 200,000 vends, after which SandenVendo said it will pilot a consumer field test of two-dozen machines. The company is targeting full production of the Pouchlink vender in the fall. According to SandenVendo, the pouches use up to 75% less plastic than rigid containers; the system uses 80% less energy to chill drinks than conventional vending equipment; and 90% of the cost of transporting prepackaged drinks is eliminated by the environmentally friendly machine.

U-Select-It took the wraps off its Alpine Combi 3000 three-wide, dual-zone vender designed to affordably and compactly bring food to smaller sites. Its patent-pending airflow design maintains temperatures for vending refrigerated foods from the top zone at 36°F and frozen items from the bottom at -15°F. The new machine can accommodate up to 36 selections, and has a capacity of up to 540 items. It also can be configured for all-refrigerated or all-frozen use, as location needs may dictate.