BEYOND SOFT DRINKS
Vending machines are known for dispensing cheap treats such as candy bars, chips, and soda. But all kinds of things can be purchased this way. In Japan, there is said to be a vending machine for every 34 people, and the nation has a reputation for selling a wide variety of unexpected items through motorized boxes that might seem odd elsewhere. It turns out the rest of the world also has its fair share of strange and fun vending machines. Here are 21 standouts.
Looking for your favorite cut of beef but your local butcher shop is closed? The Applestone Meat Co. isn't bound by regular business hours. Head to Accord or Stone Ridge, New York and swipe your card at an Applestone's meat vending machine, or as they call them 24/7 butcher shops.
If you're ever at a 7-11 in Singapore and you see a Slurpee machine, read the sign twice before you fill up your cup. The convenience store is home to one of the oddest vending machines on Earth. Put in your money, press a button, and get a cup full of piping-hot mashed potatoes — gravy is optional.
If you're ever in China and in the market for fresh shellfish, don’t schlep all the way to a fish market. For the equivalent of less than $4, you can score a live crab from a vending machine at the Nanjing subway station. The vending machines are set to a temperature of 41 to 50 degrees, which keeps the crabs alive, but puts them in a dormant state. They're not just any crabs, either — they're top-of-the-line hairy Chinese crabs.
You don't need a hot dog stand or even a drive through to score a plate of hot, crispy French fries. In Belgium and other parts of Europe, French fry vending machines keep frozen fries cold in one compartment and with every order, portions them out into an oil-based, self-cleaning cooker.
If you're ever at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Las Vegas, bottoms up. One of the world's most recognizable brands of Champagne, Moet and Chandon, dishes up mini bottles of both Imperial Brut and Imperial Rose — complete with a miniature flute topper for drinking on the go — at America's only Champagne vending machine.
CAVIAR AND ESCARGOT
Beverly Hills is a fancy town — so it stands to reason the city would play host to a fancy vending machine. In 2012, a mall in the famously tony SoCal neighborhood unveiled a vending machine that dispenses escargot and caviar for hungry shoppers who simply won't settle for anything but the best. After expanding to two other high-end shopping destinations in Los Angeles, the machines were recently pulled from service, dashing the caviar dreams of many. Fortunately, the machines can still be rented for private events, and may soon return to public locations.
Healthy Chicagoans are indulging in a growing trend in the Windy City. Nearly 200 Farmer's Fridge salad vending machines have sprung up all over Chicago. The company has sold more than 1 million salads through its machines, which you can find at shopping areas, colleges, and airports.
Want to withdraw something sweet? Sprinkles' pink "cupcake ATMs" are open 24/7 and in about a dozen U.S. cities. They are frequently restocked to guarantee freshness. Canine companions may be happy to come along: Some of the ATMs (which take credit cards but not cash) also have special doggie-treat cupcakes.
These eggs are definitely not free range at least not upon delivery. Put $4 into the egg vending machine at Glaum's Ranch in California and you'll get back 22 cage-free eggs, not to mention a song and dance from anamatronic chickens.
Available in several cities in Australia, Smart Banana vending machines sell bundles of three or five bananas. The bananas are intentionally small, making them easier to eat or pack as a snack. They are wrapped in a special film before being delivered to the machines and should last about three to five days at room temperature.
Stocked with dough by local bakeries, Compagnon du Boulanger vending machines bake and sell fresh baguettes. The machine has an oven that can bake up to six at a time and a storage compartment for 18 ready-to-go loaves. A similar machine operating under the Pani Vending brand was created by French baker Jean-Louis Hecht and promises fresh baguettes 24 hours a day.
Are you screaming for premium ice cream and frozen yogurt? Ben Jerry's vending machines are stocked with frozen bars and mini-tubs of the sweet stuff. Scoopless Ventures, which sells the machines, says they are often placed in hospitals, colleges, country clubs, and recreational destinations.
HEALTHY OFFICE SNACKS
Vending machine food is often loaded with sugar, salt, and preservatives. Byte Foods hopes to change that with vending machines stocked with fresh salads, kombucha, wraps, and cold-pressed coffee. For now, look for machines in the San Francisco Bay Area, primarily in office buildings.
HEALTHY TRAVEL AND SCHOOL SNACKS
New York is pushing for better snack options by installing healthy vending machines at rest stops and state colleges through the Taste NY program. They are stocked with a mix of items sourced in New York, including cheese, apples, chips, cookies, and yogurt.
Although some readers may prefer digital text to physical books now, bibliophiles can still pick up the real thing from a machine. The idea goes back to the early 19th century, and today these miniature bookstores are often placed in airports or train stations. The Biblio-Mat vending machine located inside the Monkey's Paw bookshop in Toronto sells randomly selected, old, and unusual books for $2 each.
FIRST AID PRODUCTS
Need a bandage? Taylor Rosenthal has you covered. The teen entrepreneur's RedMed vending machines offer first-aid kits and select individual first-aid products. In 2014, Rosenthal, then a 14-year-old in eighth grade, raised $100,000 and later turned down a $30 million buyout offer. You'll see them soon at your local Six Flags.
Operated by the nonprofit Portland Hotel Society, a vending machine at the Drug Users Resource Centre in Vancouver sells crack pipes for 25 cents each. The pipes are made from Pyrex (which is less breakable than glass) and come with alcohol swabs, a cleaning brush, filters, and a mouthpiece. The vending machine, along with a needle exchange, detox programs, and supervised injection site, is part of PHS's harm-reduction programs.
San Francisco-based Benefit Cosmetics has vending machines that are hard to miss. The large, bright pink machines look like buses and can be found at major airports across the U.S. Each holds more than 30 different products to help travelers look pulled together even if they don't feel that way. Flyers can look for airport vending machines from the Honest Company and Sephora, too.
Located in malls and airports, Essie's Color Boutiques are brightly lit and offer more than 40 shades, including seasonal varieties. Shoppers can choose nail art patterns or individual polishes. However, flyers should consider that applying a strong-smelling coat of the stuff on a plane may annoy fellow passengers.
In Seoul, South Korea, vending machines outside many of the restrooms in the subway system are stocked with an assortment of items for travelers who might be in a fix or surprised with unexpected plans. Vending options include sanitary pads, tissues, bandages, gummy candies, condoms, mouthwash, gum, lozenges, vitamins, and mints.