When you think of vending machines what comes to mind is probably processed sugar, saturated fat, and colorful plastic packaging. Chicago-based startup Farmer’s Fridge is turning this notion on its head with a kiosk (or a “veggie machine”) that dispenses healthy, fresh salads and snacks, that according to customers, rival those sold at restaurants.
Seeing that high upfront costs and convenience are the main obstacles to the distribution of healthy food, chef and founder Luke Saunders set out to prove that great tasting food can not only be good for you, but can also be easy to get in a convenient and eco-friendly way.
The way I look at it, we are not offering healthy vending machine meals. We are offering healthy, fast casual dining. It just happens to be in a vending machine. The importance of offering healthy food this way is that it makes it more accessible to people, and hopefully that helps them live a happier, healthier life.
Each salad (SPE certified) that goes into the machine is made fresh each morning in a fully licensed, shared kitchen, and delivered to the kiosk by 10 a.m. Locally sourced ingredients are layered in an airtight jar (which you can bring back and recycle, reuse, or repurpose), in such a way as to keep the veggies inside fresh and crispy.
Salads come in fun names, such as The Cheater a.k.a Guilt-Free Gluttony and Crunchy Thai Salad a.k.a Hello, Hot Stuff and in addition to them you can order sauces as well as protein sides (chicken, tuna, salmon or tofu). At the end of the day, unsold salads are donated to a local food pantry.
Customers are already raving about the service on Yelp, calling the salads "crazy-fresh, super-crunchy, and full of goodness". The few complaints are related to the price ($8 for the basic salad) and the fact that the machines often run out of salads before 2 p.m.
We like to think of our salads as a sort of edible vitamin - a delicious vitamin you eat with a fork from a jar. We research which ingredients promote the health benefits we want from each recipe, then mix and match textures and tastes until we find the salad sweet spot.
Currently, there are three machines in Chicago, and additional options for delivery and catering. Farmer's Fridge is also looking for more local farmers to work with.
Can we, please, have these machines in every school and airport?