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Tuesday, Oct 3, 2023

Not a Chip Off the Old Block

The days of fishing for change in your pocket and banging on the glass of a vending machine for a stuck candy bar might be ending – if Express Bite has anything to do with it. The Northridge vending-machine company is distributing a new line of so-called “intelligent” kiosks which can be refilled via the Internet, display a product’s nutritional value on a touch screen and accept cash, debit and credit cards. Better yet, the machines refund money if the product doesn’t drop through the slot. An infrared sensor alerts the machine when that candy bar does not dispense properly. Co-owner Jack Hagopian said his company aims to use kiosks as a way for consumers to have healthier options and a better experience than they’ve had at conventional vending machines. “Express Bite identified a niche, a need in the marketplace for intelligent kiosks to have nutritional products,” he said. The kiosks sell items such as prepared sandwiches, salads, energy bars, energy drinks and juices. Prices range from $1 to $4.50 depending on the item. The company currently has kiosks at 10 locations, including the offices of air charter Avjet Corp. at the Burbank Bob Hope Airport and is in talks to get them installed at the Northridge Fashion Center. Express Bite installs the machines – one for food and another for beverages – and keeps all proceeds from sales. Refilling options are left to the property owner or manager, who can go online and decide which items will be stocked in the machines, selecting from an online menu. “Clients can design … what they want in the kiosk. An online site allows them to choose,” Hagopian said. A contract manufacturer produces the machines, which cost $9,000 each. Express Bite puts its green-and-white logo on before installing them. Hagopian started the business with his sister Silva in January of this year after working for years in wholesale distribution for merchandise such as snacks and candy. The startup was funded with family savings. Nick Montano, vice-president and executive editor of Vending Times, a New York trade publication, said high-tech vending machines are rapidly gaining popularity. “These machines represent a small percentage of the market, but it is real competitive,” he said. “The technology has been around since the 1990s. It’s coming together now because of the wireless networks, the same technology that supports smartphones.” – Jacquelinne Mejia

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