For the first time since April 2019, the National Automatic Merchandising Association held its flagship trade show after COVID-19 imposed a cancellation of the 2020 event. The NAMA Show’s 2021 comeback took place August 18-20 in New Orleans at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, where a smaller-than-usual but highly energized crowd gathered. Generating the most excitement at NAMA’s late summer exhibition, micro market innovators showed off their latest technologies and shared new business strategies.
Announced at The NAMA Show, digital payments company Cantaloupe Inc. acquired the assets of Delicious Nutritious LLC, dba Yoke Payments, a Los Angeles-based micro market payments company. Yoke’s self-checkout kiosk and mobile apps were center stage at Cantaloupe’s NAMA exhibit.
Through this acquisition, Cantaloupe said it is investing in the fastest-growing segment of unattended retail by extending its solutions to any micro market point of sale. In addition to digital payments, Cantaloupe develops and provides end-to-end technology solutions for the unattended retail space.
One of those solutions is Seed Market, a software package that enables operators to optimize their micro market businesses with route scheduling, warehouse pre-picking, and reporting for markets, vending, office coffee and pantry. Yoke’s point-of-sale platform now extends this offering to provide self-checkout while integrating with Cantaloupe’s inventory management and payment processing platforms.
Additionally, Yoke’s mobile capabilities facilitate a direct line of communication between merchants and consumers. This enables promotions, coupons, and loyalty and rewards programs—all helping to increase customer engagement and retention.
At The NAMA Show’s largest micro market exhibit, 365 Retail Markets demonstrated its new PicoMarket, a standalone self-service solution for smaller locations. The PicoMarket is a tabletop self-checkout technology that is flexible enough to fit any location type or size with lower startup costs than full-size kiosk systems.
Also under the spotlight were the 365Pay app and 365Dining platform.
365Pay is an efficient and easy way to keep customers up to date on new products and location promotions. The app can deliver curated promotions and brand content to consumers at relevant times throughout the day. And it enables touchless breakroom interactions for micro markets, vending machines and office coffee service.
The 365Dining platform gives customers the ability to order in advance, purchase fresh foods 24/7 and enjoy self-checkout functionality. It’s designed to help operators compete in a highly competitive industry where food delivery and takeout apps are pervasive. At The NAMA Show, 365’s dining platform demonstration included the OrderAhead feature and optional 365Locker, a secure holding system for hot and cold meal deliveries.
Securing products behind a locked door and payment wall, smart coolers were all the rage at this year’s NAMA Show, and coolers outnumbered vending machines.
Making its debut at the 2021 trade show was the hubz Smart Cooler, manufactured and marketed under a partnership comprising Parlevel Systems, Shekel Brainweigh and Imbera Cooling. Hubz was created to help operators tap into locations that might otherwise be underserved by vending machines or micro markets.
Hubz can offer a selection of high-margin and diverse products in different location types, from office spaces, hotels, hospitals and transit stations to gyms and retail stores, among other venues. The secure cooler can only be opened when a customer presents a payment method.
The key features that make the cooler ”truly smart” are Shekel’s Product Aware Technology, a grouping of IoT-load sensors and machine learning algorithms; Parlevel’s management system, a combination of tools for service efficiency, product sales and planogramming; and Imbera’s best-in-class cooler and refrigeration technologies.
Three Square Markets displayed its pandemic-inspired Cooler Café, a locking cooler with an attachable kiosk that allows users to purchase products by the shelf. It also supports a connection to touchless brew-by-pack or bean-to-cup coffee machines. This integration enables one seamless transaction and shifts the cost from the traditional office coffee service and pantry model to the employee.
For employers that no longer want to shoulder the full cost of supplying free coffee and snacks to all employees, Three Square’s cooler and coffee solution allows them to control how much of the cost to subsidize.
SandStar displayed and demonstrated an unmanned grab-and-go mini market that incorporates artificial intelligence. To use SandStar’s Smart Shop, patrons scan a QR code or credit card to open its door before selecting their merchandise. The customer is charged when the door closes. Supported payments include app, mobile wallet, credit card tap or swipe, and QR code.
During the shopping session, the Smart Shop recognizes the identities of customers and their movement trajectories. Computer vision recognition technology knows when they pick up an item or put it back. The shop automatically generates a bill and charges a customer when they leave the market. SandStar’s Smart Shop can be upgraded with an age verification system, video advertising and voice-assistance software.
At Hitachi’s NAMA Show booth, the high-tech company teamed up with Shekel Brainweigh and digital solutions specialist UST to demonstrate an autonomous store concept. Using Hitachi’s camera systems and 3D sensors, along with Shekel’s Product Aware weighing shelves, the autonomous store permits a shopper to check in, open a virtual shopping cart, pick out physical items and automatically check out and pay for those items.
The Hitachi automated store brings online retail insights and convenience to brick-and-mortar locations. Customers enter the store using an app, QR code or finger-vein hardware scan. The sample store at the NAMA Show even checked the user’s temperature before allowing entry. The concept could open the door to public micro market locations.
NAMA’s annual trade show is a once-a-year opportunity for operators to see the latest developments in technology, products and marketing for vending, micro markets and office coffee service. These efforts are driven by innovators’ beliefs in the desires and needs of the market—and this year’s trade show spoke to a consumer base that is passionate about unattended retail. Next year’s NAMA Show will be held April 6-8 at Chicago’s McCormick Place.
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