The first VendCafé in Singapore at Anchorvale Drive was launched by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, early this month. Jointly facilitated by SPRING Singapore (SPRING) and the Housing & Development Board (HDB), this pilot project will be operated by JR Vending. The VendCafé serves a variety of food via a cluster of vending machines in a café setup. Residents can look forward to a round-the-clock outlet that offers wholesome and tasty hot meals. The VendCafé concept aims to better meet residents’ growing demand for more round-the-clock food options. The VendCafé at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive, comprising six vending machines1 and stand-up dining tables, boasts a variety of food and beverages that is comparable to a small eatery. In less than three minutes, residents can enjoy a tasty hot meal at any time of the day. The VendCafé provides an alternative dining experience that is convenient and hassle-free. Food vending companies leverage techniques, such as cook-chill and cook-freeze, to ensure high food quality and the original taste, while retaining the nutritional value. JR Vending is a good example – the company’s ‘Chef-in-Box’ vending machines at the VendCafé serve local delights such as seafood hor fun and curry rice that do not contain artificial flavourings and added preservatives. Two of its products have been accorded the Healthier Choice Symbol (HCS)2. The VendCafé also represents a manpower-lean dining format requiring 70% to 90% less manpower than a typical food stall3. Food preparation is done off-site, removing the need for a kitchen and minimising the need for any on-site manpower. A VendCafé can be built within weeks, to provide quick meals in locations where dining options are limited. In a March 2016 survey conducted by the Sengkang West Zone ‘B’ Residents’ Committee and JR Vending, 92% of the surveyed households at Block 320C Anchorvale Drive said they were open to a pilot or permanent installation of the VendCafé4. The new concept will provide a dining alternative for residents, as well as complement the existing eateries in the vicinity. The Food Services industry, faced with manpower shortage and rising rentals, is finding ways to serve customers in a more resource efficient manner. Food businesses view food quality as a critical success factor and would not compromise on freshness and taste. Concepts such as VendCafé, therefore, enable food businesses to overcome space and manpower constraints, while preserving freshness through shelf life extension technology. This concept also addresses consumers’ needs for convenient and healthier food choices amidst a busy and urban lifestyle. To help VendCafé take off on a right footing, SPRING organised VendTech Singapore on 2 August 2016, the first networking and showcase event for vending machine operators, food and retail companies, and landlords. The event, supported by the Restaurant Association of Singapore, Singapore Productivity Centre and JTC, attracted close to 200 participants. Companies examined different vending machine technologies that could better serve their needs. For example, some vending machines allow online ordering via mobile phones, and can send SMS alerts to consumers to pick up their orders when they are close to the machines. Mr Lewis Tan, General Manager, Mr Popiah, said, “Food vending machine is a unique and innovative concept, which can be used to provide round-the-clock access to the public. It can be an avenue for healthy and warm food that will appeal to consumers, especially the younger crowd. At the same time, we can expand our reach rapidly while keeping our manpower and rental costs low. It is a win-win situation for us.” Mr Popiah, a popiah skin manufacturer, will be deploying Singapore’s first popiah vending machine within the next year. Its popiah vending machine serves the traditional Nyonya popiah, as well as other wraps using popiah skin. “Innovative, manpower-lean dining formats such as VendCafé will transform the local Food Services industry, and help businesses progress for sustainable growth. For consumers, it will mean more convenient and affordable options. In some countries like Japan, buying meals and daily necessities from vending machines is a way of life, and we encourage Singaporeans to try out these new dining concepts”, said Mrs Kee Ai Nah, Group Director (Industry & Enterprise), SPRING Singapore. SPRING is working with HDB and JTC to roll out VendCafé pilots at more sites in the coming year. Separately, to encourage coffee shop operators to look at innovative formats that optimise the use of manpower and space, such as digital self-service, kitchen automation and resource sharing, SPRING is working with HDB to review the tender requirements for bidders of new coffee shop spaces.