Vending Comment: Coffetek, part of the Azkoyen Group, last week announced the arrival of ‘Air Touch’. Air Touch allows users to make selections from a distance of 2cm, eliminating the need to touch the vending machine. Azkoyen heralds the innovation as ‘a means of preventing and reducing the risk of transmission of bacteria and viruses such as Covid-19.’
What’s not to like? On the face of it, the arrival of this New Tech is nothing but good news… But then, there’s the law of unintended consequences, defined as ‘outcomes of a purposeful action that are not intended or foreseen.’
You don’t need to be tuned in to Vending Comment to appreciate that machine manufacturers and operators have had a roller coaster of a ride during the COVID-19 outbreak.
First came the false news that people in Italy had been banned from using machines because of their perceived propensity in harbouring and passing on the coronavirus infection. Quickly, it emerged that the ‘ban’ was restricted to one particular region of Italy and applied only to those machines located out of doors for use of the general pubic.
This particular Vending Comment fed a level of alarm, approaching panic, that many Italians experienced as their country emerged as the cradle of the virus in Europe. UK vending operators have reported numerous instances of over-zealous Facilities Managers making up their own rules by unilaterally prohibiting the use of vending machines as part of a strategy to make the workplace ‘a safer place’. Since the same FMs have failed to ban people from touching door handles, computers, telephones, stationery and who knows what else, this ill-considered gut reaction to the crisis reeks of tokenism. If you’re on Facebook, take a look at the group ‘Coffee and Vending, In It Together’, where you’ll find numerous accounts of clients sellotaping ‘do not use’ messages on vending machines.
‘Vending machines are a reliable and safe way to obtain food and beverages’. The EVA
Consequently, in March the EVA issued an official rebuttal of the ill-informed Vending Comment that was circulating. ‘The spread of the coronavirus is causing great uncertainty among consumers and customers, and we would like to reiterate that vending machines are a reliable and safe way to obtain food and beverages. Vending machine operators, fillers and technicians place food safety and hygiene as top priorities in their daily service, and are trained in both personal hygiene and protection against infections. During the current health crisis, operators have also put in place measures to ensure that the disinfection of machine surfaces is also carried out as regularly as possible.’ In the UK, the AVA has worked equally hard to project a positive image for vending during the coronavirus emergency.
The worry I have regarding the timing of the launch of Air Touch and the attendant hullaballoo is that the general public might perceive it as contradicting the advice of the industry’s highly-respected European trade association. They might conclude that the EVA’s considered response to the situation was little more than propaganda…
Ordering and paying without touching has to be a good thing. A survey of the touch screens installed in MacDonald’s restaurants, undertaken by Metro newspaper, found gut and faecal bacteria in all of the chain’s restaurants it surveyed. It took samples from the screens in eight branches and found that they contained coliform bacteria, a group of micro-organisms found in people’s intestines as well as in soil and on plants. Gross. (More on that, HERE).
‘The only dangerous vending machine is a dirty vending machine.’
But this is not an issue with touchscreens – what are the odds that similar results would have emerged had the survey taken in table tops, door handles; condiment sachets, counters; chip and pin machines?
The issue is one of cleanliness. The only dangerous vending machine is a dirty vending machine; and as the EVA said, ‘operators have put in place measures to ensure that the disinfection of machine surfaces is also carried out as regularly as possible.’
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the need for personal cleanliness as never before. Where I live, I can’t go into any grocery store or supermarket without first having applied an alcohol based hand-sanitising solution. I don’t find this ‘inconvenient’; I find it ‘reassuring’. It doesn’t offend me; nor does it threaten my civil liberties, because it’s ‘common sense’, pure and simple. Ergo, isn’t it also common sense that we should require vending machine users – not to mention customers at fast-food chains – to do the same, before they use the selection panel or interact with a touch screen?
When an industry is struggling, Vending Comment that constitutes a kick in the proverbials from one of its own is the last thing it needs
So, whilst it’s ‘hat’s off’ to Azkoyen Group for taking vending one technological step further, it’s a ‘yellow card’ for the company, because it is manipulating fear of COVID-19 as a key selling point.
Also, how does a person approaching the machine curb their natural instinct to press the screen? We’ve all been programmed to do this on all sorts of equipment for years; it’ll be a hard habit to break…
There are tens of thousands of machines in the field that do not have this technology and if the promotional activity surrounding Air Touch was to lead customers to boycott them in droves, that would be a bad day for everyone in vending. If there is such a backlash as a consequence of the arrival of Air Touch, the fact that it is ‘an outcome of a purposeful action that was not intended or foreseen’ will come as scant consolation.
Food for thought? Your own Vending Comment would be welcome.
Ian Reynolds-Young, Editor, Planet Vending.