Farmer's Fridge O'Hare

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport has sprouted a Farmer’s Fridge vending kiosk on Concourse F in Terminal 2 that dispenses fresh salads and healthy snacks in clear, recyclable jars that are restocked daily. Image via Farmer’s Fridge

APEX Insight: Google’s vending machine at San José International Airport, which began dispensing free items to its Project Fi wireless service customers just before the holidays, is the latest twist in a trend that has seen airport vending machines become creative – and profitable – centers of 24-hour automated retail.

Just before the holidays, a vending machine in Terminal B at San José International Airport began dispensing useful travel items such as toothbrushes, socks and charging cables – all for free. Hacked? Nope. The complimentary items are available only to customers of Google’s Project Fi wireless service, who can use their devices to generate a QR code that releases one free item every 24 hours.

Google’s vending machine is just the latest twist in a trend that has seen airport vending machines become creative – and profitable – centers of 24-hour automated retail. The Shop 24 – an oversized vending machine with the footprint of a small retail shop – has been selling snacks, sundries and even diapers at Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport for years. Now Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD) has sprouted a Farmer’s Fridge vending kiosk on Concourse F in Terminal 2 that dispenses fresh salads and healthy snacks in clear, recyclable jars that are restocked daily. The company has installed more than 50 of these machines around Chicago and plans to add two additional Farmer’s Fridge kiosks in ORD’s Terminal 3 in early 2017.

Less healthy, but just as tasty, Lambert–St. Louis International Airport has three machines (one on each concourse) that dispense assorted flavors of Ted Drewes Frozen Custard cups – a local favorite.

FuelRod vending stations sell portable chargers that can be swapped out repeatedly for replacements in almost two dozen US airports (and a few international ones). And Zoom Systems has branded automated retail “shops” for Best Buy, Benefit Cosmetics and the recently introduced Skyroam global Wi-Fi hotspot rentals in multiple airports around the country.

benefit-zoom-machine

Image: Harriet Baskas

Oakland and Kansas City international airports have intriguing SouveNEAR vending stations filled with a wide variety of locally sourced and reasonably priced items such as jewelry, t-shirts and gourmet food. “When we travel, we want our souvenirs to actually come from the cities we visit and love, and we want to be able to find them even when we’re in a hurry at the airport. So we aim to make buying locally made items as convenient as possible,” says SouveNEAR co-founder Suzanne Southard.