Kroger introduces 24-hour automated supermarket kiosk

Kroger introduces 24-hour automated supermarket kiosk

Over the course of a college career students tend to develop a love/hate relationship with vending machines. Sometimes these snack-filled oracles seem to know you intimately and possess whatever delicious junk food your stomach desires. However for every one day the vending machine satisfies your Frito-eating Starbucks’ Double Shot Espresso-drinking needs, there are ten other days when it’s merely stocked with Fig Newtons and Spearmint gum. It is inconsistent with its brilliance and unreliable at best, but its allure is matched only late-night delivery services.

The popularity of vending machines is based solely in easy access. Like the slutty girl in high school, they’re simple to locate and effortless to use. They have a stranglehold on college campuses because plenty of students don’t have access to a car, supermarkets aren’t always in walking distance and the fine eating establishments of higher education don’t cater to the 4 a.m. procrastinator.

Kroger, the nation’s largest traditional supermarket chain, has introduced a 24-hour supermarket kiosk, which may one day break the tyrannical control traditional vending machines have over college students everywhere.

About the size of an enclosed bus stop, the robotic kiosk is a self-contained, refrigerated vending machine that can carry up to 200 items. It is restocked daily with such staples as toiletries, cleaning supplies, and perishables that include fresh milk, bread, fruit, and ground beef. It accepts cash, debit cards, credit cards, and federal supplemental nutrition-assistance program cards.

Kroger, which partnered with Ohio Northern on the robotic store venture, purchased the 10-by-13-foot kiosk from Shop24 Global, a Columbus firm that makes grocery vending machines used widely in Europe. Since Kroger’s Shop24 debuted Jan. 19, officials from five other universities have come to observe it, company officials said.

Kroger is stocking the machine with 164 items, changing the mix regularly to accommodate customers’ preferences but also to handle the grocery chain’s special promotions such as sub sandwiches, relish trays, and chicken wings for the Super Bowl, and flowers and chocolates for Valentine’s Day.

“Mostly, it’s snacks and a couple of perishables. … But I think the neatest piece it brings to the university is it enhances a person’s time spent on campus,” said Tim White-Hoffman, manager of the Kroger store in Kenton, about 15 miles away, which restocks the robotic kiosk daily.

“A smaller town might not have as many things to offer nearby. This enhances that shopping experience for students and allows them to buy items they may otherwise have to make a special trip somewhere else to get,” Mr. White-Hoffman said. “Or say that what the dining hall is serving that morning doesn’t fit with their needs. They can get fresh yogurt and fruit from the kiosk if they want.”

Finally, a beacon of hope for students forced to drink white grape fruit juice, simply because they’re parched and it’s the only beverage left in the machine. (Yes, I realize tap water is free, but I’m trying to make a grand sweeping statement here.) Gone are the days when Mike and Ike’s were the only way to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Thanks to Kroger, college student’s food-consuming and toilet paper-buying convenience will reach unprecedented heights. Currently, the kiosk’s only location is in Ada, Ohio on the campus of Ohio Northern University, but since it debuted last month five other universities have been observing its effectiveness.

It may not be a hoverboard, or auto-lacing sneakers, but if this is the future, it sure is a bright one.

[Toledo Blade]