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Entrepreneur Develops Novel Nutritional Beverage Machine; 'Nutri-Vend' Automates Preparation And Sales Of Powder-Based Health Drinks

Posted On: 7/8/2004

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NEW YORK CITY - Fitness-minded consumers can now spend more time working out at the gym and less time on line at the juice bar with the rollout of the "Nutri-Vend" machine.

Invented by Jeffrey Badin, the vender dispenses ready-to-drink, powder-based protein, meal replacement, energy, low-carb and weight loss beverages, reconstituting a single serving of the customer's selected drink in 20 to 30 seconds. It offers 10 drink selections and two cup sizes to suit widely varied diets and nutritional objectives.

Badin's own personal experiences and observations at the gym gave him the idea for the novel vending machine. "I was an avid body builder, and I found the slow service at the juice bar frustrating when I was finished working out and needed a drink immediately to replenish my muscles," Badin told VT.

"I watched the juice bar at the gym and researched how many kinds of drink people purchased, and I saw how high the volume was. So I came up with a concept to just take away the attendant and automate and speed the service."

This is not only an advantage to gym-goers, Badin pointed out. "The gym owner wins as well, because why should a guy be selling $3 shakes when he could be selling memberships instead? The vending machine eliminates the need for a gym to obtain a health permit and to pay an attendant, and it eliminates issues of theft and inventory control."

Badin, a former computer engineer in the financial industry, constructed the prototype by modifying an industry-standard hot beverage machine. The existing product canisters, whippers and auger motors proved capable of expertly preparing and dispensing popular nutritional beverages. The inventor customized the machine to vend the cold beverages by adding a chiller unit that brings the drink's temperature down to an optimal 38° to 40° F. Badin also reprogrammed the machine to include a hot water self-cleaning cycle.

Badin and his business partner, Alison Yap, spent two years testing a wide array of products to make certain that the powdered mixes would not cake, harbor bacteria or retain moisture in the machine, in order to guarantee partnering product suppliers the ultimate in product integrity to support their well-established brands. The Nutri-Vend founders also performed endurance tests on each product by cycling them through 1,000 continuous vends, to ensure that beverage properties remained optimal and consistent.

Soluble products available in the Nutri-Vend program include nutritional supplement beverages from market leaders that have approved sale of their product through the machine, including InStone Nutrition, APEX, Twinlab, Prolab, Muscletech, Pinnacle, Atkins, Johnson & Johnson and EAS.

Nutri-Vend's founders tested four machine prototypes at prominent gyms and a vitamin shop in and around New York City. During these field tests, the drinks were vended for $3 per 8-fl.oz. cup and $4 for a 16-fl.oz. cup. Sales volume ranged from 70 to 100 cups daily at the test sites.

Based on the success of the machines on location, Nutri-Vend has contracted with several distributors for the marketing and sales of its equipment. Soluble product for the machine is available to operators exclusively through Nutri-Vend and its authorized distributors.

Through these distributors, Nutri-Vend has received more than 1,000 inquiries for orders of "Nutri-Vend" equipment from the U.S., Middle Eastern countries, Germany, Australia, Italy and the United Kingdom. Production of the "for market" unit will commence in late July, and will be supported by a multimedia ad campaign.

Boosting "Nutri-Vend's" profit potential for the operator beyond the vending machine revenue alone is the "Nutri-Vend Touchscreen Kiosk Model," which, in addition to dispending ready-to-drink beverages, enables the patron to purchase bulk packages of the soluble nutritional beverages online for overnight home delivery. Using a touchscreen display, patrons select the product they wish to purchase and enter their credit card information. The order is then uploaded to the manufacturer's merchant website. The vending operator receives a percentage of each order total.

Gym environments are especially well-suited for the touchscreen model because there is a regular clientele, consumers who purchase health and fitness products for home consumption, who are familiar with their nutritional properties and pricing.

In addition to Internet-friendly ordering, the automated kiosk's touchscreen display can provide in-depth nutritional information about each product featured in the machine and available for online purchase, including protein and sugar content, calories and net carbohydrates.

VALUE MEAL: On location at Synergy Fitness in Manhattan, Jeff Badin and business partner Alison Yap meet with manager Smokey West, who has been instrumental in the success of "Nutri-Vend's" field test. At Synergy Fitness, the machine is connected to a companion snack vender, controlled by the "Nutri-Vend" unit, and merchandised with energy bars, vitamins and other nutritious snacks that appeal to health-minded gym-goers.
Beverage manufacturers participating in the program can also use the 15-in. screen to jump-start a promotion, launch new products and inform patrons of sales and discounts. Vending operators benefit by sharing revenue generated by third-party on-screen advertising.

Nutri-Vend negotiates all promotional agreements and uploads and updates onscreen advertising, promotions and sales specials remotely.

One scenario Badin offered to illustrate "Nutri-Vend's" powerful marketing potential is that of a nutritional supplement manufacturer who introduces a new product for sale through a "Nutri-Vend" machine. The operator can feature an on-screen video clip, or product images, as well as detailed nutritional information. The customer can sample the new product by purchasing a single serving from the machine, and then proceed to purchase a case online.

"The supplier can also advertise that all product ordered online will be on sale for a specified time at 20% off regular pricing," Badin explained. "This benefits the operator, the protein drink company and the consumer. The machine provides the vehicle to promote, market and sell any product, and all parties share in the revenue."

"Nutri-Vend's" advertising capabilities are not limited to promoting products from the nutritional beverage arena. The touchscreen display can also highlight local hotels, doctors, lawyers and big-screen movie theaters, for example, and can offer patrons special deals on advertisers' products and services.

"Nutri-Vend" operators can use a wireless system, standard dial-up service or a high-speed cable connection for the required Internet access.

Using USA Technologies' proven "e-Port" cashless payment technology, standard in all "Nutri-Vend" machines, operators can accept credit and debit cards and remotely monitor sales transactions and movement of individual products to maintain the most profitable planogram for each location.

"Nutri-Vend" target locations include private and corporate gyms, health clubs, police and military fitness centers, and colleges, universities, correctional institutions and healthcare facilities.

Badin is presently negotiating with GNC, the largest global specialty retailer of nutritional supplements, for the deployment of GNC-branded "Nutri-Vend" machines in health clubs and fitness centers nationwide. "GNC would love to put a miniature store inside every gym if they could, but they can't," Badin pointed out. "Vending fills that role by creating a retail environment for their product in a place where there is very high demand, and they can then benefit from the added revenue from online sales."

The vending entrepreneur has also signed an agreement with rap artist/actor and fitness enthusiast LL Cool J, who will serve as Nutri-Vend's spokesperson.

Nutri-Vend plans to exhibit the machines and describe the program at the National Automatic Merchandising Association's National Expo in Chicago this fall.