SAN FRANCISCO—Ah, the vending machine, longtime purveyor of either guilty pleasures or scary meals.
The entrepreneurs behind Pantry want consumers to forget the unappealing image of stale food behind glass and embrace their web-connected kiosks that stock fresh food around the clock. Launching Tuesday after nearly three years in development, Pantry has been operating in stealth mode, monitoring sales of kiosks in places such as Stanford University and the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center.
“We’re always fresh and always open, and that’s a hard combination,” says Russ Cohn, CEO of Pantry, which has secured $2.3 million in funding, including a recent $1 million round led by Cowboy Ventures. “We want to be the grab-and-go solution that’s in your hospital, your office and your university.”
Pantry is specifically looking to target so-called food deserts, either locations or times of day when finding traditional stores and other food vendors open is difficult. The company’s kiosks look like glass-doored refrigerators, with the exception of a payment swipe box near the top left corner of the door.
Each machine is web-enabled, allowing Pantry staff to monitor sales and restock according to how each individual kiosk turns over its merchandise. “That not only allows us to see what a given kiosk might need depending on the day, but it also helps us reduce waste,” says Cohn.
So far, Pantry’s main partnerships on the food-provider end include behemoths such as Sodexo and Aramark as well as niche food purveyors such as Mixt Greens. Cohn says the company welcomes inquiries from new partners so long as they meet the company’s need for delivery efficiency.
Pantry was started by a trio of engineers — Art Tkachenko, Alex Yancher and Tony Chen — who had grown frustrated by their inability to find healthy food options while working late hours. Cohn says Pantry will stock foods such as salads, sandwiches, soups and yogurts, with most items costing no more than $10.
Pantry’s ambitions are as large as a post-work out appetite, which may be realistic if one considers the increasingly 24/7 nature of today’s tech-fueled work world. “We think we can have one in every workplace and five in every hospital,” he says.
Follow USA TODAY tech reporter Marco della Cava on Twitter @marcodellacava.
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