Blending in vending in public spaces

David Llewellyn, chief executive of the Vending & Automated Retail Association (AVA), assesses prospects for vending machines in public spaces and the impact of recent government legislation on the industry

There is roughly one vending machine for every 55 people in the UK, which dispense some 7 billion items across the four home nations. However, this number dropped by 0.6 per cent between 2020 and 2021, with the decline expected to continue long-term, according to the AVA census of 2021.
Furthermore, recent legislation, such as the deposit return  scheme and single use plastic ban, will have significant impact on the wider hospitality industry, that may mean businesses feel the need to find alternative solutions such as vending or other unattended retail options.

Opportunities for vending machines in workspaces
The gradual shift of businesses back to offices and other workplaces is likely to continue. Although the hybrid work model will still be popular, we are likely to see a continuing demand for flexibility around working arrangements. Therefore businesses are going to be assessing the catering facilities within the workspace. This will give real opportunities for incorporating vending machines and unattended retail, such as micro-markets, increasing their numbers in workplace settings.
We are seeing more businesses looking to add micro-markets to their workplace, in order to encourage employees to return and making offices more attractive place to be. They enable businesses to offer the flexibility that so many employees want, which could also aid staff retention in the long term. Despite the potential decline of ‘traditional vending’, the 2021 AVA census revealed how micro-markets are continuing to grow rapidly, with a 25 per cent increase from 2020 to 2021 and around 410 now installed in the UK.
I expect that as hybrid working continues, we will see less reliance on traditional workplace canteens and increased demand for micro-markets and ‘smart’ fridges.
Finally, I think there will also be a continued migration towards cashless systems and new app technology within the vending sector. In the last two years, consumer behaviours have changed considerably, with a rapid acceleration in card/contact technology. This will carry on as more and more e-savvy Gen Zs enter the job market.

Product range changes
The greater diversity of vending machine products is set to continue as they become an increasingly attractive option for food on the go, as consumers look for convenience and choice. This means we are seeing an increased offering of ‘better for you’ foods, as consumers seek out healthier, nutritious snacking alternatives.
The UK has already seen a steady transition away from ‘traditional’ vending machine products with high sugar or salt content. There’s also a greater variety of vegan and plant-based products within vending. With the rising number of vegans in the UK – and non-vegans happy to go down this route from time to time - it is vital that operators can meet the demand by providing suitable options.
The increased penetration of micro-markets has also led to an upsurge in Fresh Food offers – which has traditionally languished at about four per cent of the total market.

The impact of changing legislation
The AVA supports its members with government lobbying, best practice guidance and collaboration opportunities, whilst championing industry-wide quality, innovation and consumer satisfaction. With that in mind, we closely track all anticipated and upcoming changes to the law that will affect the vending industry, to ensure best outcomes for operators.
Currently, there are several pieces of proposed and under-consultation legislation that will impact the vending industry.

Mandatory Cup Takeback and Extended Producer Responsibility
As part of its Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) consultations, DEFRA has outlined a Mandatory Cup Takeback scheme, affecting all sellers of filled, fibre-based composite cups, that employ 10 or more fulltime employees (FTEs). All businesses – including those within the vending industry - will be required to have arrangements in place to collect and recycle used cups, report to the regulators the tonnage they have placed on the market, plus the tonnage they have collected and sent for recycling. For impacted businesses, this may lead to a rise in general cost and admin time too to ensure that this is arranged properly and that they are operating in line with the new rules.
The National Cup Recycling Scheme (NCRS) is the UK’s largest paper cup recycling programme. It brings together major retailers, waste management companies and UK paper mills - all with the shared aim of growing the infrastructure needed to increase the number of paper cups being collected and recycled nationwide. After discussions with NCRS, AVA operators will be able to ‘plug in’ to this scheme.

Single use plastic ban
To put it in simple terms, following the result of the consultation update provided by DEFRA, plastic vending cups will not be banned under this legislation. Whilst other single use items, such as plastic plates, cutlery and trays will be included in the ban, rigid extruded polystyrene cups will be exempt.
Whilst we are pleased that this exclusion will mean that the vending industry is not negatively affected by this change, we acknowledge that it is a much-needed one that will hopefully have a positive impact, by reducing plastics pollution and littering.
Of course, the ban will have a significant impact on the wider hospitality industry, and businesses will have to make the transition towards alternative solutions. However, as sustainability is the priority in our net-zero attempts, the single use plastic ban announcement is a welcome one. If our members have any questions about how this may impact them going forward, then the AVA is on hand to offer additional support.

Deposit return scheme (DRS)
The UK government’s proposed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS) for drinks containers in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland has been broadly supported by the AVA, which has actively promoted recycling, recovery, and reuse in the industry for years. However, concerns have been expressed about the scheme’s functionality across different nations and the labelling requirements for companies operating across borders. A consistent approach across the UK would be the most practical, cost-effective and simplest to communicate to consumers, rather than the current fragmented approach.
Additionally, the AVA is seeking exemptions for smaller retailers such as vending and automated retail, similar to the Scottish legislation, which would include vending machines and micro-market sites with a footprint of 100 square metres or less. As we move towards the expected legislation consultation in the autumn of this year, the AVA will continue to lobby for clarification on these matters.

About AVA
The Vending & Automated Retail Association (AVA) is the trade body and voice for the automated 24-hour food and beverage industry in the UK. The AVA supports its members with government lobbying, best practice guidance and collaboration opportunities, whilst championing industry-wide quality, innovation and consumer satisfaction.
It consists of 160 members which manage the 460,000 vending machines across the UK today. The role of the AVA is to promote, protect and enhance the vending industry, as well as offer a standard of service for its members to follow.
David Llewellyn is Chief Executive of the AVA and has held the position since April 2018 however, has been in most aspects of the vending industry since 1994.

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