First vending machine cafe launched at Sengkang HDB estate

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Rows of sandwiches sitting in a vending machine at VendCafe in Anchorvale. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
VendCafe features six vending machines that dispense a range of food items from hot meals to freshly squeezed juice. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam looking at the menu of a "Chef-in-Box" hot food machine at VendCafe on Aug 7, 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
DPM Tharman Shanmugaratnam and Sengkang West MP Lam Pin Min eating hot food from a vending machine, at VendCafe on Aug 7, 2016. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - A first of its kind vending machine "cafe" serving hot meals, sandwiches, snacks and drinks at all hours of the day was launched at the void deck of Block 320C Anchorvale Drive on Sunday (Aug 7).

Anchorvale's VendCafe, operated by JR Vending, is a cluster of six vending machines accompanied by stand-up dining tables.

Two Chef-In-Box machines dispense hot meals in under three minutes, offering Western and local fare such as seafood hor fun and spaghetti bolognese.

The roster of 30 meals will be rotated, and are priced between $3.50 and $5.

Meals can also be purchased frozen for later consumption.

Other machines sell freshly squeezed orange juice, hot beverages and grab-and-go items such as wraps and snacks.

The pilot project is jointly facilitated by Spring Singapore and the Housing Development Board (HDB). There are plans to roll out more VendCafes in the coming year, which may involve other operators.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam launched the Anchorvale VendCafe on Sunday morning, and sampled Chef-in-Box's salted egg yolk pasta with shrimp.

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Mr Tharman, who is also Coordinating Minister for Economic and Social Policies, noted the current manpower shortage, particularly in the food and beverage sector.

"The F&B sector takes up almost five per cent of our total workforce, and it's still growing as a sector, but we can't keep growing manpower, in particular foreign manpower. So we have to find ways of using technology without compromising consumers' desire for taste, health, nutrition and convenience," he said.

"So this is one of the experiments, and it's very common in places like Japan, Taiwan and the UK."

Mr Tharman said that while it may take a while for consumers to take to the concept, they will become used to it once more VendCafes are deployed across the island.

Sengkang West MP and Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said that the area was perfect for Singapore's first VendCafe.

"Sengkang West is a very young estate, the oldest flat is only about 15 years old and there are many new BTO flats that are coming along. Over the years I've received feedback from residents that we need to have more amenities in the area, including coffee shops," said Dr Lam.

"But this is one of earliest precincts in Sengkang West, it is quite built up so it's not feasible to have another coffee shop nearby. Therefore, having the VendCafe in this area brilliant idea."

JR Group's chief executive officer Jocelyn Chng said that the town council will send someone to clean the area every morning, though JR staff will be educating residents on machine use and clean up as well.

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