Does your workplace break room have one of those vending machines filled with sugary processed granola bars, mini potato chip bags, and plenty of candy?
Now imagine if there was a vending machine that sold fresh chef-designed healthy meals, tailored to your specific dietary needs.
As it turns out, a Vancouver-based venture is taking what sounds like something out of The Jetsons and making it a reality.
The company is UpMeals, which currently makes "white label" prepared meals for businesses (meaning your company's branding goes on the label), and they are behind the first SmartVending Meal Solution in British Columbia.
Purchases are made using a touch-screen, and dispensed in sustainable packaging. Meals use seasonal and local ingredients, and the machines are monitored remotely in order to track inventory, spoilage dates, and popular items. Promos and discounts can also be programmed into the machine.
While SmartVending meal machines are in their own refrigerated units, the company is creating a retrofit panel for use on existing machines.
In addition to monitoring the machine's supply in order to minimize waste, UpMeals is also teamed up locally with Vancouver Food Runners who distribute these unused meals to those in need. Since March, Vancouver Food Runners have rescued 167k+ pounds of fresh food businesses like restaurants, catering companies and grocery stores—food that would otherwise have been destined for the landfill—in order to feed those in need. Their food rescue has been equivalent to providing 139k+ meals to charity partners like Covenant House, Canuck Place, KidSafe and more.
Businesses that use UpMeals can partner with any charity they choose, creating a zero-waste solution.
Behind the venture are Drew Munro, a professional Vancouver-based caterer, and Ryan Angel, a Red Seal Chef and Registered Holistic Nutritionist.
The duo has sought to address a gap in the local business landscape for companies looking to offer staff healthy, nutritious meals on-demand in a cost-effective way.
Munro says companies coming to him looking for ongoing branded catering services found what could be done was "often costly and timely to produce." This steered UpMeals towards a solution that was more hands-off.
"UpMeals' SmartVending technology and custom-branded meals take the heavy lifting out of this process and make the management of healthy food options reliable and easy to access," attests Munro.
The meals are created specifically for the client business and can be customized to include an array of dietary considerations, like plant-based or gluten-free.
What's on the UpMeals menu?
Some of the dishes they've created for companies include Harissa Carrot Bowl with quinoa lentil tapenade purple cabbage & pistachio; Coconut Chicken Dragon Bowl; Falafel Salad Bowl; and Mediterranean Chicken wrap. UpMeals can also create heat-and-serve meal options for companies that have on-site microwaves for staff to use.
Customers of local grocery delivery business Spud and their storefront Be Fresh will have seen UpMeals' creations in the prepared foods section under the Be Fresh label, too.
UpMeals has also provided meal solutions to Vancouver-based businesses including Body Energy Club, Waves, FreshPrep, Telus, and plant X, since 2018. Recently, they have launched partnerships with OCO Meals and Modern Meat.
For their SmartVending meal system, UpMeals is currently in the funding stages, though they have already secured support from the Canadian government through The National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC IRAP). They were also the winners of the Kobe City prize at the international Shibuya FoodTech Challenge for Social Innovation, which will see them work with the city of Kobe, Japan in launching their SmartVending product across the Pacific. Among their investors: Robert Angle, the creator of Pictionary.