Vending Machines – The Early Years

The first vending machines used at the workplace were in North America in 1946, and it took another ten years before the concept reached the United Kingdom.

Pioneering British vending companies such as Autobar, Ditchburn, Fisher & Ludlow, GKN Sankey and Gloster, together with North American and European manufacturers such as Avenco, National Vendors, Vendo, and Wittenborg, all began to flourish in the new growth industry of commercial vending.

Shortly after a company emerged that used very persuasive and intimidating selling methods – Crusader Vendors – who at their peak were selling hundreds of machines each week – and helped increase the drinks vending machine population and drinks vending awareness substantially.

Major food manufacturers were quick to see the potential of vended products and were soon producing packs of tea, coffee, chocolate as well as powdered milk etc., all formulated specially for use in the drinks vending machine.

One of the biggest growth areas at the time was in the manufacture of disposable cups. Initially produced paper cups were produced, but soon plastic cups became the vogue and companies such as Conex, and Mono were expanding rapidly. Nowadays the situation has reversed, and paper cups are back in demand, probably due to green issues.

One problem the early drinks machine suppliers were faced with, was acceptance of the quality of the drink – particularly the tea.

In the 60’s, freshly infused tea was by far the most popular drink in the UK and to most workers at the time, a cup of instant tea made with powdered milk was definitely a no-no.

Some companies attempted to improve the quality of instant tea by using fresh milk. Unfortunately, due to the short life of fresh milk, problems with cleanliness and hygiene ensured that these machine never took off. With the introduction of fresh leaf tea vending machines in the later 60’s the acceptance of the beverage vending machine in the British workplace began to be more readily accepted.

Also a new type of machine and drink vending system was introduced in the late 60’s by two companies – Klix (a division of the confectionery giant Mars) and Maxpax (a division of Maxwell House/General Foods).

Using drinks that were packed in the disposable cups themselves, in-cup drinks vending broke new ground in the vending industry with machines which needed very little cleaning and servicing.

It was (and still is) this cleaning and maintenance of drinks machines that is crucial to the success of any installation. This is why the seventies and eighties saw the trend of self owned machines change to machines serviced and cleaned by outside professional vending operating companies – particulaly with companies with many machines installed in the same buidling.

Currently the quality of hot beverages from vending machines is so high that they are universally accepted. Indeed, often the drink produced from a machine – be it freshly brewed tea from the leaf, freshly brewed coffee from the bean, whipped chocolate, soups and carbonated cold drinks (all from popular and well known brands) – are comparable to drinks produced in coffee shops and retails outlets.