SINGAPORE: Vending machines - stocked with packets of food made freshly in restaurants daily - will soon be available in the Republic by September.
Each packet of food is individually sealed and comes with a barcode to help in identifying which restaurant it came from, the type of product, as well as the time that it was packed. Some of the restaurants that have jumped on the vending machine bandwagon are Ponggol Nasi Lemak and Cali Grill & Bar.
"The time of packing is most important in our business, primarily because we don’t serve products that are any longer than four hours from the time of packaging,” said Mr Satish Chamyvelumani, CEO of Frshly. The company is working with JTC to roll out its machines in Singapore by the first week of September.
He added: "After four hours, the product will artificially be expired from our system. The product will be taken off the menu and ordering screen, as well as on the mobile app. There’s no way a consumer can order, even though the product is just sitting on the other side."
Restaurants will benefit from this increased focus on vending machines as they gain exposure while still saving on the manpower and rental costs of opening new outlets.
As for Mr Popiah, a food manufacturer, it has invested about S$600,000 to develop its own vending machines, which can dispense both hot and cold food. The machines will also dispense novel food items like salted egg prawn popiah and ice-cream popiah.
Mr Popiah hopes the machines can help increase sales by up to 40 per cent. Its general manager, Mr Lewis Tan, said: "For the cost, it may look like a lot for now, but if you weigh in all the manpower, as well as the rental that you need to use, it will be a more effective way for the company in the long term."
According to the National Environment Agency, it currently does not issue licences for food vending machines that dispense factory-packed food items as “these sources are already licensed by AVA”.
“Nonetheless, operators of such vending machines should be mindful of their responsibility towards their customers and ensure that the food items are obtained from licensed sources, the machines are kept clean and pest-free, and to observe good hygiene practices when stocking the food items in the vending machines,” added NEA.
In the event that food dispensed from the vending machines is found to be unfit for consumption, NEA said the operator will be liable to a fine of up to S$5,000, under the Environment Public Health Act.
MORE THAN JUST FOOD FOR THOUGHT
It is also not just food that is available from vending machines. A fridge by ShelfX can detect what products have been taken, using weight-sensing plates and cameras.
The company said the technology can replace self-checkout counters at supermarkets or be used to set up mini-convenience stores. Founder of ShelfX, Ms Serene Loong, said: "Imagine if your child has a fever in the middle of the night - you can just go down to the void deck and pick up what you need like a box of Panadol or a thermometer."
Theft is prevented as one needs a credit card or a registered phone to open the door, the company said. The fridge can also be augmented with cameras. It added that convenience stores and landlords have expressed interest in the technology.
SPRING Singapore, which is driving the push for the innovation, said the vending machines can fill retail and F&B gaps in areas like industrial estates. Most of these machines are set to be rolled out in the next few months.