How many times have you been too busy at work to grab a healthy lunch so you head to the nearest fast food joint or worse yet, grabbed some processed, packaged and often overpriced selection from the staff room vending machine?
A couple of Calgary entrepreneurs are betting this happens often and regularly and so they’ve come up with an idea they think will help get healthy food into the hands of hungry people — fast.
“Today we’re unveiling our automated kiosks. They are a fresh food vending machine,” said Nutrimeals co-owner and founder Grace Clark. “So you can walk up to the machine, place your order, say, ‘I want the taco bowl’ and then it will vend it right there for you.”
You read that right; Calgary-based Nutrimeals unveiled a new, state-of-the-art fresh food vending machine that dispenses fully cooked meals with just the swipe of your credit card.
The nutritionist-vetted meals are comparable in cost to most fast food chains but come with the convenience of being stationed close by — no driving required — unless of course you’re not lucky enough to work in one of the two downtown locations where the piloted machines have been placed.
“It’s a refrigerated machine so the food is kept at a safe temperature at all times and it is a state-of-the-art machine, the technology is insane,” Clark said.
The machines are cashless, accepting tap technology. They also have an internal thermostat that will sound an alarm should the temperature rise for any reason.
Nutrimeals got its start in 2017 as a meal preparation company delivering fresh cooked meals all over Calgary. It expanded its services to include delivery across Western Canada before deciding to take their venture to the next level.
It was co-owner and founder Sam Hale who came up with the idea to sell their healthy offerings via automated kiosks after reflecting on the four months he had spent in Japan as a student.
“It was actually after the fact, I just thought back to what was really convenient for me and what did I like about Japan and then I was like, we can implement that here as well,” Hale said.
Neither Hale nor Clark had ever heard of anyone in the city, province or country doing what they are now doing and so finding the right vending machine took some time. They eventually found a manufacturer in Europe and after a year of prep and planning, were able to unveil their new venture on Wednesday.
“With the same manufacturer of this machine, there is one other company that will vend salads so we are the first to offer a full prepared meal that you can just grab and go,” Clark said.
John Christos is a friend and customer. He was the first person to buy one of their cooked meals and have it delivered, and was also the first customer to purchase a meal from the Nutrimeals vending machine.
“When you come into work, you can go right to the kiosk here and you’re ready, there’s no hassle, just easy, easy. Tap out and you’re ready to go,” Christos said.
Each meal has a shelf life of five days but after three, Hale and Clark say they’ll remove any remaining meals and donate them to a local charity that will redistribute them before they reach their expiration date.
Heidi Bench of Leftovers Foundation says the charity is excited to be the chosen beneficiary.
“The quality of food that they’re going to be donating is really nice to be able to provide that to other service agencies around the city,” Bench said.
Nutrimeals also plans to make ordering from its machines even easier and will be launching a mobile app next week that will allow customers to remotely reserve a meal for pick up within a three-hour window.