Smart vending machine in West End high-rise competes with meal-delivery services

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      A smart vending machine designed to compete with the burgeoning meal-delivery industry has been installed in the lobby of a high-rise in Vancouver's West End.

      The cloud-connected and refrigerated machine, complete with interactive touch screens and rotating menus, is located in Devonshire Properties' Larch Tower, one of four beachfront high-rises overlooking English Bay with the collective name Beach Towers.

      Vancouver company UpMeals—which describes itself on its website as a "white-label prepared-meal solution for businesses"—wants to also compete with meal-delivery companies in the city's residentail rental market.

      The business claims that this type of smart vending machine is the first of its kind to be installed in a residential building.

      UpMeals says on its website that meal-delivery apps can cost upwards of $20 to $25 per meal per person, including the delivery fee, and that catered meals for businesses cost as much as $15 to $20 per employee, while its average cost per person is about $9 to $14.

      “Many residential rental buildings in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland are looking for ways to ensure tenants are looked after, happy, and healthy, especially as we continue to navigate the pandemic,” company CEO and cofounder Drew Munro said in a news release. “Devonshire Properties has seized an opportunity to disrupt the rental market by offering this value-add to their tenants.

      "Working on this install has been a collaborative process with the tenants," Munro said. "We saw surprising results from our survey with them that aligned with healthier eating habits, higher energy levels, and increased protein intake. We’re excited to provide them with a menu that helps meet these goals in their day-to-day lives.”

      UpMeals wants to install their smart vendimg machines in businesses as well.

      Besides "freshly prepared" meals, tower residents will be able to purchase snacks and various treats, and about a quarter of the machine's options will be devoted to everyday necessities such as laundry detergent and toothpaste.

      UpMeals says that meals that have approached their freshness dates will be donated to the Vancouver Food Bank.

      Some of the foods available are breakfast wraps, a chicken salad bowl, and a "seed-nut superfood bar". UpMeals describes the foods as "healthy, fresh, and sustainable".

      "To curate the menu, residents of the Beach Tower property participated in a survey provided by UpMeals identifying the goals and benefits they want to achieve with the meals and snacks available to them," the release stated. "The survey included their dietary and cuisine preferences, and eating habits."

      Devonshire vice president Cody Neal said the smart machine is a good fit for tenants whose working life has been impacted by the pandemic. “When we heard about the UpMeals smart vending machine, we saw huge potential benefit for our tenants and residents,” Neal said. “Not only does it give them access to convenient, affordable food options which they've helped create, it is well-timed while many pivot to working from home. Onsite access to safe and healthy fresh food options really seems to have residents excited."