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    Aug 08, 2016

    Hot meals 24/7 at the void deck

    A FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND vending machine "cafe" serving hot meals, snacks and drinks at all hours of the day was launched in the heartland yesterday, with more to come.

    A new wave of food vending machines, including ones that slow cook food and serve freshly prepared restaurant dishes, is part of the Government's plan to make the food service sector more manpower-lean.

    Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam launched the first VendCafe, operated by JR Vending, at the void deck of Block 320C Anchorvale Drive yesterday.

    The cluster of six vending machines, including two that dispense hot meals such as seafood hor fun, are accompanied by stand-up dining tables.

    The pilot project is jointly facilitated by enterprise development agency Spring Singapore and the Housing Board.

    There are plans to roll out more VendCafes in the coming year, which may involve other operators.

    Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, said technology can be harnessed to address the current manpower shortage while meeting consumer needs.

    "The F&B sector takes up almost 5 per cent of our total workforce; we can't keep growing manpower, in particular foreign manpower," he said.

    Last Tuesday, 16 vending machine companies and technology providers showcased their wares at VendTech Singapore, the first networking event for providers, food-and-beverage and retail companies and landlords.

    Nine of the companies have yet to be launched in Singapore. The event was organised by Spring Singapore.

    One exhibitor at VendTech, Mr Popiah, manufactures and supplies popiah skins and ingredients. It has 11 outlets at coffee shops and foodcourts.

    It will launch 10 machines selling traditional and fusion popiah dishes at offices and housing estates by the end of the year. The company is also in talks with malls.

    Compared with opening a new outlet, a vending machine saves about 40 per cent in cost, while operating 24 hours a day, said general manager Lewis Tan, 23.

    Indian food-tech company Frshly will sell hot meals from restaurants at its machines when it launches next month.

    Ithas 10 restaurant partners, including Ponggol Nasi Lemak and Cali Grill and Bar.

    Customers can order from up to 25 meal options, stocked just before mealtimes, from five to seven restaurants at each unit.

    Five machines will be launched by the end of next month, with a goal of 100 units in the next year.

    "Consumers in Singapore are super intelligent and tech- savvy, and I think acceptance of this concept will be better than other places," said Satish Chamyvelumani, chief executive officer of Owl Tech, which owns Frshly.

    Civil servant Yvonne Hong, 28, is excited to try the new vending-machine fare.

    "With so many food options in Singapore, vending-machine food is usually a last resort.

    "But if these fresh-food machines become more common, I think that will change."