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airport in March 2018. Angela Kinsey

Time:2019-06-14 19:31Shoes websites Click:

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You can buy a lot more than drinks from airport vending machines these days.

You can buy a lot more than drinks from airport vending machines these days. Photo: MCT

Carolyn Marshall was headed to the gate for her American Airlines flight to California when she spotted the sleek tan machines with the neon sign across from Gate K6 at O'Hare International Airport.

She approached the side-by-side Farmer's Fridge vending machines, tapped the touchscreen menu and was hooked. The machines, stocked twice a day, sell salads in a jar, sandwiches and wraps, Greek yogurt with granola and other healthy fare. Marshall ordered an Asian chopped salad and a couple hard-boiled eggs for $US12, swiped her card, and the items tumbled out, one by one, like a can of Coke and a candy bar.

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"I love this idea," the Connecticut photographer said. "You're going to spend the money anyway, so you might as well eat something healthy."

Airport vending machines long ago expanded beyond soft drinks and snacks -- what frequent flyer hasn't seen a Best Buy machine peddling Beats and Bose headphones and other name-brand electronics, or one of those pink, bus-shaped machines selling trendy Benefit Cosmetics?

But the number of machines and variety of items they dispense is on the rise as travellers embrace their convenience, airports love their limited real estate and 24-hour operation, and consumer brands use them as another outlet to serve existing customers and reach new ones.

Airports expanding vending machine lineup

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Las Vegas' McCarran International Airport added more than two dozen machines this spring, including four that sell decadent Sprinkles Cupcakes.

Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is up to 15 machines, including two selling sundries from CVS, and is adding another one selling artsy Stance socks, a brand with more 1.3 million Instagram followers.

At New York's LaGuardia Airport, travelers passing through the newly renovated Terminal B are greeted with a row of vending machines selling Uniqlo puffer jackets, Sugarfina upscale candy and trial-size toiletry kits from Dollar Shave Club, a newcomer to airport vending.

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Time-pressed travellers love self service

Gower Smith, the CEO of Swyft Inc., the automated retail technology company behind many brand name airport vending machines, said demand for new locations and new items for sale via vending machines is strong.

The company will soon add Pokemon vending machines at airports and also plans to expand into food and beverage vending machines. Smith would love to see Allbirds sneakers next to a Uniqlo vending machine some day.

"You're dealing with a savvy consumer these days," Smith said. "A self -service experience really hits a chord with them."

Smith said he's bought a phone charger from a vending machine at San Francisco International Airport, Swyft's home base, and likely will pick up new Apple AirPods from a Best Buy machine instead of going to the store or ordering them online since the pricing is the same.

He likens the vending machines to bank ATMs.

"There's a time and place when you deal with a person. ... There's a time and place when you just want your cash out of the machine," he said. "We bring a choice to the consumer."

Scott Kichline, assistant aviation director in Las Vegas, remembers when the airport added vending machines selling iPods and other Apple products more than a decade ago -- products the airport's retail shops didn't offer at the time. They brought in as much as $US60,000 or $US70,000 a month, he said.

Then there was the test of a Rosetta Stone vending machine peddling $US500 software to travellers looking to learn a new language. Kichline and the airport's director sat across from the machine the day the test started and was "blown away" when two kits were sold in 30 minutes.

"It's been a great format to test different products and things that are sort of nontraditional in airports," he said.

Vending machines never close and fit almost anywhere

One of the best things about having vending machines in an airport's retail and dining mix, airport officials and others say: they are always open.

The new pharmacy vending machines in Las Vegas, for example, offer toiletries, including toothbrushes. Those come in handy for stranded travellers when flight delays strike late at night and the airport news and gift shops are closed, Kichline said.

"It's kind of a great service to have," he said.

Farmer's Fridge, a Chicago-based company whose fridges are mainly in hospitals, universities, office buildings and drug stores, sees a lot of airport sales early in the morning and late at night.

"I don't know how many times I landed and everything's closed," founder and CEO Luke Saunders said. "It's a way to bring restaurant-quality food to travelers at odd times of the day."

The vending machines are also popping up in areas where traditional airport retailers may not fit or don't want to operate.

Two of the Farmer's Fridge machines at O'Hare are in baggage claim.

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