IN the pre-coronavirus world, they were features of office kitchens and leisure centres that we gave scant thought to. Now, as retailers endeavour to find ways around lockdowns, vending machines are on the rise around the world, selling everything from milk to books.


Cola, chocolate bars and crisps are so yesterday?

They were the main staple of vending machines as we knew them, of course, but the pandemic and ensuing restrictions has forced retailers and food and drink producers to think outside the box about how to connect with consumers.


Milk machines?

A growing number of UK farms are now selling produce via vending machines, in a bid to reach consumers directly during lockdown life. One farm in Gloucestershire - Leonard Stanley Farm - sells not only free range milk, but it has a cheese vending machine, selling cheeses made on site. Open 24/7, the vending machine, taking cash and cards, sells Godsells Cheese, including cheddar, smoked and chilli cheeses.



The Egg Shed in Weston, Hertfordshire, has a new egg vending machine and also sells its own honey made on the local farm as well, saying: “The eggs are fresh straight from the farm to the vending machine.”



Stellina Pizzeria in Arlington, Virginia in the US has debuted its new pasta vending machine outside its eatery, selling items such as the chef's own pasta kits, jars of homemade sauces, fresh pasta and in case aspiring cooks need a helping hand, the machine's LED screen flashes up cooking instructions you can take a picture of with your phone while placing your order.



Just last week, Australian outlet, The Mason Baker in Brisbane, unveiled its "cupcake ATM", offering six different cupcakes in a jar style sweet treats, including strawberries and cream and salted caramel flavours. It is stocked every Friday and Saturday and was praised online as a socially distanced method of getting dessert.



Educators in Texas have unveiled book vending machines. Each week, every teacher picks a student who gets a "golden ticket" for reaching their reading goals, which is swapped for a coin for the machine. The school's principal said the kids get a kick out of their book being spat out of a machine.


And, of course, covid?

Vending machines offering face masks, gloves and hand sanitiser have become common features, particularly at airports nowadays, while machines selling covid test kits are now springing up in major cities across the US. Health firm Wellness 4 Humanity has announced plans to roll out the machines that will dispense saliva and rapid antigen tests, with prices ranging from $130 to $149.


Back in the day...

It all began with postcards. The first modern coin-operated vending machines date back to London in the early 1880s, dispensing postcards, proving so popular they soon spread to feature in railway stations and post offices country-wide. America's first vending machine sold gum on New York City train platforms in 1888.