Vending cafe pulls into MRT station

A member of the public purchasing Hainanese chicken chop with rice from Chef-in-Box on June 13, 2017.ST VIDEO: KEVIN LIM
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling ordering fried carrot cake from a VendCafe machine.ST VIDEO: TIFFANY FUMIKO TAY
Commuters needing a bite can pick from a wide range of items (below) including soups, cake, wraps and rice dishes from the vending machines at Ang Mo Kio MRT station (left).
Commuters needing a bite can pick from a wide range of items including soups, cake, wraps and rice dishes from the vending machines at Ang Mo Kio MRT station (above).ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Commuters needing a bite can pick from a wide range of items (below) including soups, cake, wraps and rice dishes from the vending machines at Ang Mo Kio MRT station (left).
Commuters needing a bite can pick from a wide range of items (above) including soups, cake, wraps and rice dishes from the vending machines at Ang Mo Kio MRT station.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Ang Mo Kio station's VendCafe part of trend in industry to reduce manpower

Commuters now have more grab-and-go food options, with the launch yesterday of the first vending machine cafe at an MRT station.

Ang Mo Kio MRT station's VendCafe has more than 90 food and beverage options. It will be followed by another at Lakeside MRT station next week. Both will open from 7am to 11pm daily.

The launch comes on the heels of a recent wave of food vending machines that have taken off, with the Government backing such manpower-lean initiatives.

VendCafe operator JR Vending's first cluster of machines dispensing hot meals around the clock was launched at a Sengkang void deck last August, in a pilot project jointly facilitated by Spring Singapore and the Housing Board.

JR CEO Jocelyn Chng said that the Sengkang VendCafe serves an average of 250 meals a day, and two more will be launched at HDB estates in Rivervale and Pasir Ris by early next month.

The MRT VendCafes, which serve new menu items such as fried carrot cake and Spanish paella, are cashless, and commuters can tap their ez-link cards to pay, among other options.

 
 
 

The meals, which are cooked and packaged daily at a central kitchen, will be replenished twice a day by an on-site staff member.

Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Trade and Industry Low Yen Ling told the media at the launch that the format helps to address manpower and productivity challenges in the food services sector, delivering the same quantity of meals with up to 90 per cent fewer workers.

"For long-term sustainability and growth, the Government has been encouraging and helping companies in the food services sector to move into manpower-lean formats," said Ms Low.

Civil servant Jenny Lee, 46, who was queueing to try a meal at VendCafe yesterday, said: "If (the food) is not bad, then I will buy it next time on the way home from work since it is convenient."

Local bakery chain Polar Puffs and Cakes launched its first vending machine yesterday at the Singapore Management University.

The "vending ovens" maintain a temperature of 60 deg C to 65 deg C, keeping pastries crisp, while "vending chillers" selling cakes will also be rolled out soon, it told The Straits Times. The company aims to expand its reach by rolling out 200 machines over the next three years.

Shake Salad co-founder Heng Ri-Liang, who started his salad vending machine business after his dreams for a salad shop were dashed by high rentals, said that the business has been doing well since the launch of its first machine at RELC International Hotel last September.

It has since grown to 18 locations, many of which are in office buildings. Granola and sandwiches will be added to the menu at the end of the month, said Dr Heng.

"Rather than us cold-calling, we have interested parties calling in to ask about deploying our machines at their workplace... there is certainly more acceptance of the food vending platform now," he said.

In response to queries, enterprise development agency Spring Singapore said: "Since the launch of VendCafe last year, we have seen a healthy interest in food vending machine concepts, with some operators developing and customising their own machines to better serve customers' needs."

There are plans to launch about 10 VendCafes and other vending concepts with different operators over the next year, said a spokesman.

But for some, the idea of vending machines as a last resort is hard to shake. Marketing executive Lester Lim, 28, said: "I have tried hot food from vending machines before and it is not bad, but I would still rather go for something freshly cooked."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Vending cafe pulls into MRT station'. Print Edition | Subscribe