Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include details about vending machine operations.
Snack vending machines have long been associated with a last resort for hungry workers and college students. But Wow Bao hopes to change that perception with its move to hot food vending machines, which offer a variety of bao and dumpling options.
Chicago-based Asian fast-food chain Wow Bao said Tuesday it will launch 50 restaurants vending machine kiosks in 24 cities through a partnership with Automated Retail Technologies and its Just Baked Food kiosks. According to the company, the possibility to add more of these kiosks could be limitless.
“I have a goal for how many units I want to see, but I don’t know if you can put a number on it because I think that can be literally all over the place,” said Jeff Alexander, President and CEO of Wow Bao.
He added that Wow Bao’s menu items need to be preheated in vending machines, not freshly prepared, so servicing these units is easy. Alexander said the kiosks are also equipped for hospitals, military bases, police stations, university dorms and 24-hour facilities where getting hot food during some parts of the day can be difficult.
“do you see [hot vending machines] In Japan and other parts of the world, but you don’t see it in the US,” the CEO said, adding that Automated Retail Technologies is very optimistic about the scale that Wow Bao and other types of food can achieve with bread machines.
“I think we are the only Asians [food] This is available inside the hot vending machines,” Alexander said. “We think they are both [aspects] It will do very well for us.”
Alexander noted that Automated Technologies/Just Baked will provide the kiosks to vending machine operators, who will install the units wherever they have access. These operators will be responsible for filling the machines with Wow Bao product.
Additionally, the chain’s casual fast roster could provide an opportunity for these vending machine partners, many of which operate machines for video games or major soda brands like Pepsi and Coke, to diversify, according to Alexander.
Alexander said the Just Baked machines have videos up front that show the food being cooked and various menu items that can better appeal to customers versus traditional vending machines.
Just Baked will also have an app available for customers to pre-order their Wow Bao menu items from their phone So their food will be ready when they get close to the kiosk, he said. Orders take 45 seconds to heat up, and pre-orders are queued and then released once the person arrives and is connected to the system.
Vending machines can complement the current growth
Alexander said that while Wow Bao is still looking to expand its brick-and-mortar locations in areas like airports, vending machines are allowing it to grow its footprint faster, using much less space and reaching more people. As of Maythe company had more than 600 locations in the United States, which include units in grocery stores, airports and virtual kitchens. He added that hypothetically, it could open a location at O’Hare Airport in one terminal and then spread vending machines throughout the other terminals. This will allow a single operator to fill as many machines as needed in one location.
“[Vending machines] “Really grow your footprint and customer availability,” Alexander said.
Wow Bao is also growing in strength with its Dark Kitchen Program, in which it uses existing kitchen space for restaurant partners to prepare and facilitate the delivery of menu items. However, it will give Wow Bao vending machines access to consumer centers that many restaurants can’t reach such as hospitals and military bases, Alexander said.
“I think vending machines have become somewhat of a taboo,” the CEO added. “The way vending machines have advanced, evolved and innovated with technology and hot foods coming out of them, you will see more people and more cuisines available. We are pleased to be one of the pioneers in this hot food field.”