From companies asking employees to work from home to consumers shifting to online modes of payments, people are increasingly looking at adopting contactless methods for everyday activities in the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic. With social distancing becoming the new norm, workplaces are also looking at alternatives for dining at their cafeterias. Case in point, food vending companies in India have been seeing an increase in the number of enquiries for their kiosks, from corporates and residential societies.

Prerna Kalra, Co-founder, Daalchini, a start-up that provides home-cooked food to corporate professionals through its IoT-enabled phygital (physical and digital) vending machines, said that from the kiosks that have already been installed and are active in paying guest hostels, apartments and operational offices, they are already doing 80 per cent of February’s sales.

“Corporate customers understand that the concept of a dine-in cafeteria where everyone get together in one place may not be possible for quite a long time in the future. They realise that vending machines offer a good low-risk option, especially if they are contactless,” said Shankar Prasad, CEO of Snaxsmart, a company that provides snack and beverage vending machines for corporates. He added that though there is a spurt in enquiries, the actual conversion of these would happen when the situation improves.

Contactless payment options

These companies, of late, have also been seeing a rise in enquiries from apartment complexes, gated communities. To tap this interest, they have been adding contactless payment options to make it easier for consumers who use their vending machines.

“Before the Covid crisis all our machines had the option of buying products either by cash or through cashless means,” said Snaxsmart’s Prasad , adding “Once the crisis broke, we stopped offering cash options and made the machines entirely contactless.”

Eating healthy

Food vending machines available in India typically provide either beverages, cold drinks in cartons, or packaged snacks, or sometimes a combination of all of these. With the onset of the pandemic, the founders of these companies said consumers are also increasingly looking at healthier options to eat from these machines. They earlier used to stock items such as chikkis , dry fruits, buttermilk, cookies, fruit juices, nutrition bars along with snacks such as chips and chocolates. But the demand for options such as the nutrition bars has gone up now, they observed.

Snackit’s founder Ashish Nimodia, said that customers are looking forward to healthier options and food rich in fibre and vitamins. He added that they have also been seeing an increase in dry-fruit sales.

Apart from shifting to healthier food habits, founders said that consumers have also been increasingly buying meal replacements and ready-to-eat food items such as poha, upma, and noodles from these vending machines.

The new norm

In the post-COVID world, the demand for services such as automatic kiosks and vending machines will relatively increase because above everything else, they enable consumers to maintain social distancing, said Daalchini’s Kalra.

The food vending market in India is yet to pick up. Its niche set of consumers are from business process outsourcing (BPO) firms and IT companies, apart from malls and airports. According to a report by Research and Markets, approximately 88 per cent of this market is occupied by the snack and beverage combination vending machines. But with increasing preference for contactless choices and with people looking for options within the compound or nearby radius to fulfil everyday food requirements, founders are positive that vending machine usage will only grow multi-fold in the coming months.