Digital snacks at your fingertips (photo by Steve Dolinsky)
The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) really knows how to hold a convention. By size standards, the Vending Machine Show is no National Restaurant Association show (which comes to town this weekend by the way, so forget about getting reservations anywhere), and it's definitely dwarfed compared with the Fancy Foods Show or the Candy Show. But this annual convention certainly pulls together some interesting displays, and does it in a way that is completely relatable to most folks. I mean, who hasn't bought something from a vending machine? They're everywhere - offices, schools, ice rinks - and as much as foodies might disdain their contributions to the culinary world, they often come in handy in a pinch.
The digital machines (pictured above) are already being used in Boston, and will certainly be in Chicago very soon. Not only can you see a layout on an iPhone-like screen, touching an item will show you complete nutritional info, give you a 360 degree spin of the product and then show you an ingredient list if you like. Cash or credit is an option, and the days of paying with your phone - a la Tokyo teenagers - aren't too far behind.Healthy snacking courtesy Del Monte (photo by Steve Dolinsky)
I was also excited to see this machine, from Del Monte. Offering vegetables with dip, cut pineapple, apples with caramel and individually-wrapped bananas (extending their shelf-life a few days), this machine may have some carbon footprint issues, but at least it's giving kids some options besides Funions and Three Musketeers. If you'd like to see some video from the show - including a machine that makes freshly-spun cotton candy in 60 seconds - check out the video here after 11:30 a.m. today.