Micro-markets, a growing retail channel with ties to the vending industry, provide operators with an additional revenue source and ways to expand offerings and/or locations.
According to the Chicago-based National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA), there are approximately 10,000 micro-markets currently in operation, and these are expected to grow to 35,000 in the next five years.
“Growth is everywhere,” said Kelly C. Doherty, NAMA’s senior manager of marketing & communications. The majority are operating in business and industry installations that support a large number of employees previously served by vending machines. “Examples include corporate offices, hospitals and hotels, but [the opportunities are] not limited to those.”
These installations, which encompass automated self-service and unattended payment systems, differ from traditional vending machines by bringing a larger variety of healthy and fresh food options to the consumer, while retaining the labor and operational efficiencies of automated retailing.
This has been particularly effective in refrigerated grab-and-go applications, where food is highly visible and consumers can make quick and easy selections without having to open a door.
To protect the safety of consumers, refrigerated equipment in micro-market environments must include a safety feature that closes the display if food reaches an unsafe temperature. With an open front display, an automatic roll down door closes if the temperature threshold is achieved.
NSF/ANSI Standard 7: Commercial Refrigerators and Freezers include requirements for units that might be found in a micro market setting.
“Many local health departments require refrigerated displays in a self-service setting to have an automatic lock-out feature, which automatically locks the display case if the air temperature in the food compartment is greater than 41°F for more than 30 minutes,” said Mike Kohler, associate technical director, food equipment, at NSF International.
It’s important to note that display refrigerators are classified and tested according to the environmental conditions under which they are intended to be used. These include:
- Type I Display Refrigerators: A display refrigerator intended for use in an area where the environmental conditions are controlled and maintained so that the ambient temperature typically does not exceed 75°F and 55% relative humidity. At minimum, all display cases must pass these criteria.
- Type II Display Refrigerators: A display refrigerator intended for use in an area where the environmental conditions are controlled and maintained so that the ambient temperature typically does not exceed 80°F and 60% relative humidity.