Push-button pantry a world first

Australia’s largest banana-growing family continues to dispense world-firsts in automated fresh produce retailing with a further expansion of its vending machine concept.

In just over two years, Tully’s MacKay family has grown its start-up trial of selling bananas from its especially-designed machines into a push-button “emporium” selling up to 40 lines of fresh produce and pre-prepared meals.

MacKays, supported by marketing group Fresh Partners, has trademarked the name CityPantry for the concept.There are a trio of dispensing machines in the range – the original Banana Bar, a Fruit Bar which was introduced just over a year ago, and Nuevo Food machines selling pre-prepared and heat-and-eat meals.

The first CityPantry was launched at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital (RBWH) in August with Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, praising the concept.

“This is a great initiative, anything that makes a healthy choice an easy choice is far more likely to be taken up,” Dr Young said.

“Unfortunately, here in Queensland, despite all of the fantastic attributes that we have with our great food choices, we know that 65 per cent of adults are overweight or obese and less than 10 percent eat an adequate amount of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“I have great hopes that this will increase the opportunity to access easy, good, simple food.”

Fresh Partners Director Mike Evans said the machines offered a range of fresh fruits, nuts, yoghurts, juices and pre-packaged meals.

A producer buyer, Colin Follett, sources the fresh produce stocked in the machines.

The vending machines are temperature controlled and serviced each week day to top-up lines and ensure all produce is in good condition.

Mr Evans said the idea was to “create an emporium of great foods” for consumers wanting a snack or meal.

The concept of selling only bananas had proven too limiting so the decision was made to broaden the offer.

“What we’ve found is that people want to eat healthy, they’re really interested in it,” Mr Evans said.

“Fruit’s great but there’s other opportunities we’d like to be involved in. We’ve added yoghurts, we’ve added ready-to-eat meals.

“It’s definitely a first, we’ve looked around the world and to put three vending machines together which are all offering fresh food and healthier options, we can’t find anything else like it.”

Mr Evans said the challenge was now to build a “trust factor” with consumers.

“Why would you trust food out of a big box? It’s a vending machine, it’s usually got junk in it. What we’ve had to do here is challenge that.

“Once people eat from it and it eats well and happens to be healthy we’ll actually get repeat customers.”

The vending machines are located at several venues in Brisbane and the Gold Coast with different types of locations having been trialed over the past two years including food courts, transit centres, other hospitals, schools and universities.

RBWH Acting Commercial Services Manager Ralda MacGregor said the original Banana Bar had been popular and the reaction to the expanded offer had been very positive.

“It’s absolutely amazing. The feedback from the staff and visitors has been amazing,” she said. “The food is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and we needed something here for late staff and visitors after hours and on the weekends.”