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Vending Stays Popular In UK, Survey Finds

Feb 22, 2020
vending coffee machine

A reduction in the use of plastic and increased demand for more healthful vending options are two of the key factors for vending success found in surveys conducted during International Vending Week in October, an event launched by Trade Events, the company behind the U.K. Vendex exhibitions.

Almost 400 people representing both the vending trade and its customers took part in the surveys, which sought to establish a benchmark for activity in the sector. Technology, too, was seen to be an important factor in future vending success, as were sustainability issues.

From the outset it was clear that the vending market is still enjoying popularity and growth because fewer than 2% of respondents had never used a vending machine and over 30% had used one in the past week.

Nearly 70% of trade respondents felt that the quality of hot drinks today is better or just as good as any High Street barista offering compared to 10 years ago. This accords with consumer opinion, as 80% of consumers said "yes" to the same question.

Proposals for improvement included less plastic, fresh milk and better customization. Suggestions for new drink vends included iced coffee and cold brew, vegan alternatives to cows’ milk and hot soft drinks such as spiced apple.

Coffee and hot chocolate were the most heavily purchased hot drinks with tea lagging behind at a purchase rate 50% lower than coffee. Fizzy drinks topped the cold drinks table with water the second most popular choice in this category.

Eighty percent of vending businesses are experiencing demand for healthier vending options and over half of them are offering vending options that are CQUIN-compliant in response. No added sugar or low sugar and low-fat products are also being stocked.

Effects of the sugar tax on vending include the need to stock reformulated product and offer a greater range of sugar free drinks. However, a trade respondent commented that prices have had to increase as a result of the sugar tax but consumers are still willing to pay. Of the 36% of respondents that offer diet-specific vending options, half offer vegetarian and gluten-free products but other dietary options such as GM free, kosher and lactose free are rarely catered for.

In direct opposition to the above, confectionery and salty and sweet snacks topped the most frequently bought vended foods in the consumer survey. This confirms that despite pressure on the vending industry to supply healthier choices to consumers and consumers expressing a desire for healthier vended foods, the reality is that consumers will often choose less healthy foods over healthier alternatives. Fresh fruit and salads together accounted for less than 10% in this category.  

When consumers were asked what goods they would like to see vended, healthier options (including GF, low calorie, high protein, fresh chilled salads) came second only to tech accessories.

All respondents from the vending trade felt positive about the future of vending. Over half have experience installing or supplying to micro markets and nearly 90% see this segment growing in the next five years.  


Three-quarters of businesses polled are taking steps to reduce environmental impact, with the majority using environmentally friendly packaging including cups, recycling waste and producing and using energy efficient machines. Over 90% said they saw environmental pressure on their business increasing in the next five years.  

Touchscreens, cashless payment technologies and digital stock control featured at the top of the list when the industry was asked what technologies it was using, closely followed by digital advertising and WIFI hotspots.

Although facial, RFID recognition and biometrics are being deployed, their use is still relatively rare. Sixty percent of respondents have never used cashless vending machines but 85% of those that have used their debit card to make payment. Mobile phone payment using Google or Apple pay was the next most popular form of payment, while pre-paid cards issued by employers or universities were rarely used.  

Most respondents were not aware of vending machine club benefits like competitions, money-off vouchers and loyalty scheme, and less than 15% had ever received any such benefits from using a machine.

Sanitary and hygiene products and cigarettes were the most frequently vended non-food and beverage items bought, although headphones, chargers and other tech equipment are gaining traction. In response to items that the audience wants to see vended, tech accessories ranked as the highest answer.  

Participants were also given the opportunity to share the most unusual items they have seen vended. Gold bars, high-value jewelry and even cars appear to be fairly commonplace in vending machines in the Middle East. However, topping the most unusual vended items list were sex toys and fish bait, closely followed by live lobsters and crabs predominantly in Asia.  

Chart courtesy of Trade Events.