Spaghetti squash and lentil Bolognese, matcha chia pudding, miso rainbow bowl—these are just a few of the made-from-scratch daily meals soon available at a reusable packaging vending machine in Fulton Street Station. Yes, you read that right: made-from-scratch daily meals at a zero-waste packing vending machine called Fresh Bowl.
“We want to give people healthy and clean food in a convenient matter, so that you can run out, get the food and eat, knowing you’re eating good, nourishing food and without feeling guilty,” says Chloe Vichot.
Vichot, the founder of the West Village café Ancolie, created Fresh Bowl vending machines—which dispense drinks, meals and snacks in glass jars—with her business partner, Zachary Lawless. In an effort to close the loop on packaging waste, consumers are encouraged to return the jars, which are then cleaned, sanitized and reused up to 100 times, for a $2 credit on their next Fresh Bowl purchase.
“Every morning the machines are stocked with fresh salads, breakfast bowls and juices, all in glass jars,” Vichot says. “You can buy a salad for a little less than $10, eat it and then you come back and use a barcode scan to put the jar back in the vending machine locker and you get a $2 credit.”
Vichot, who moved to the U.S. from France 15 years ago, has long focused on reducing packaging waste while serving healthy food. Her West Village restaurant served food to-go in glass jars with a similar credit for consumers who returned the jars. She said the store has about a 40 percent return rate on them.
“I thought the vending machine would be an amazing opportunity to basically open multiple locations and spread out throughout the city,” Vichot says.
In a way the machines seem like a modern upgrade to the city’s Automats of the 20th century that dispensed full meals. If you’ve traveled around the Netherlands you may have seen the fast foodchain FEBO that serves hamburgers among other fried foods from what is basically a vending machine. But Vichot and Lawless wanted not only to serve fresh meals but to do so in a sustainable fashion with their vending machine, and so the pair worked with a company in Europe to create the refrigerated block vending machines, customizing the exterior, ordering screen and retail locker to make dispensing and returning the jars possible.
They tested the machines at WeWork’s Varick location for six months, fine-tuning some of the kinks in regards to restocking the types and size of meals. There Fresh Bowl has seen an 80 percent return rate on the jars. In August, they’ll roll out additional machines to three Manhattan locations, including the Fulton Street Subway Station, where they expect to see about a 40 percent return rate, and two office buildings. They’re hoping to continue to add additional vending machines throughout the city by finding different partners, whether companies, universities or buildings. Those interested can reach out via their website.
Photographs courtesy of Fresh Bowl.