Vending machines that dish up fresh salads are huge in America and the healthy-eating chain Tossed is looking to bring that trend into the UK.
Just last month, a start-up called Fresh Bowl launched three vending machines in New York offering salads in glass jars in a bid to tackle the plastic packaging scourge, as well as make it convenient for people to grab a healthy meal. It had previously piloted its vending machine at a WeWork coworking office for six months.
Fresh Bowl’s founders saw an untapped opportunity with vending machines – one that allowed them to reach more people without forking out money on building new stores and renting shops in Manhattan. Its salads are commonly designed with the dressing at the bottom of the jar, followed by ingredients like lentils and beans to soak up the juices, and finally greens on top, keeping them nice and crispy. The brand also developed a plant-based version of spaghetti bolognese using squash as a substitute for pasta and lentils instead of beef.
The glass jars can be returned to the vending machine for a discount on the next meal.
Tossed is introducing its own vending machines after trialling a version at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, with plans to target areas with high footfall and demand, such as offices, travel hubs, hospitals and gyms.
It hopes to put four machines out to market during the coming quarter under the brand Speedy Greens by Tossed, each located within a five-minute walk of one of their 24 stores.
“From a business point of view it’s a way of us extending our reach. They will be stocked every day from your local store. We don’t have a big factory churning out these in the thousands – the same people that make your salad when you walk into the store will be making your salad that day and putting it into the vending machine,” Angelina Harrisson, food and commercial director at Tossed, tells Food Spark.
“It’s a way of getting our stores some extra revenue and from a guest point of view more and more people are choosing to stay in their office for lunch – we have seen that with the rise in Deliveroo. So if you can get your lunch from a vending machine that is one floor down, we think that people will do that as opposed to going outside, walking down the street, walking into the store and buying a salad.”
Like Fresh Bowl, Tossed is planning to deliver its salads in jars to ensure they stay in good shape.
Products like smoothies, wraps and snacks will also be on offer.
“It will be very similar to the food we make in our stores. These are big sellers – these aren’t small, little pre-packed Boots slimmers – they are big salads and they follow the same principle that we follow in store,” Harrisson explains. “They have got to be healthy, got to have a balance of good carbs, loads of fresh fruit and veg.”
For a chain that specialises in salads, Harrisson notes that demand in its stores for hot food shows no sign of cooling off, even in summer, adding that people love spicy food in almost every category.
“It’s the year of the cauliflower – people are loving cauliflower at the moment,” Harrisson reveals. “From a vegetarian point of view, halloumi has always been popular, it’s still one of our bestselling items.
“We launched last year a tofu chilli as a hot food option, which has been incredibly popular, so I do think that people like the good quality meat substitutes, both the meat eaters and non-meat eaters.”
While plant-based bites are dominating the healthy-eating space, Harrisson believes the industry is playing catch up with what people were already doing at home. But competition has become fierce, she adds, as everyone is launching better-for-you ranges.
“There are loads of fads that have gone through the healthy food market, whether it be charcoal croissants or algae water. We are just about actually being the truth about healthy food, which is lots of veggies, eat as much plant-based food as you can, good quality protein and slow-releasing carbs,” she says.
“It’s a very fine line between making sure you have enough innovation to keep people interested and to keep people excited to come, but at the same time making sure you don’t go too weird and wacky that you end up alienating your core base.”
But when it comes food innovation, Harrisson says it only work if there it the operational consistency to back it up.
“If your operations can’t deliver it perfectly every single time, then food innovation means nothing. I think it’s much more important to have an excellent small range then an okay huge range,” she adds.
A dirty burger with balance
When Harrisson joined Tossed it had eight sites. She has seen the business triple in size in the last four years and during that time the chain has ridden along with the change in people’s diets too.
“Perhaps people would have a salad once a week on Monday because they were feeling over-indulged,” she comments. “You’ll now see people coming two, three, four days a week, and that covers all day parts.”
Yet, people are only human and still want to treat themselves by indulging in food that can be heavy in calories, she says.
“I think people are realising that, if they want to go out and have a dirty burger on a Friday night, then the majority of the rest of their week should be good quality nutritious food,” she explains. “So I think that’s just going to continue to flow through as the millennials reach maturity. It’s a total mindset change in the way people eat and the industry is getting there and it’s going to continue.”