VendCafes are the future of fast and cheap food in Singapore. What will this mean for your wallet?
The first vending machine cafe in Singapore is now open at the void deck of Block 320C Anchorvale Drive. VendCafes are a new dining concept, in which the eatery consists of just vending machines and tables to eat at.
But is this a viable replacement for a proper eatery, and how will it affect your wallet?
VendCafes Minimises the Service Element from Eateries
The two biggest costs in the food industry are rent and manpower. Ever since the 1990s, when Japan took the lead with robot cafes and conveyor belt sushi, the food industry has sought alternatives to hiring staff. VendCafes are an outgrowth of that.
The pilot VendCafe at Anchorvale provides local foods like hor fun, nasi goreng, and chicken rice. There is also a brown rice and braised chicken version, which has the Health Promotion Board’s Healthier Choice stamp.
The food is actually prepared fresh in the morning, in a central kitchen with 60 chefs. It is then put through blast chilling – this is a process by which food is reduced from 70 degrees centigrade to three degrees centigrade or below, within less than 90 minutes.
Blast chilling is used as the standard for restaurants that precook food, in the European Union (EU). Unlike freezing, blast chilling preserves the nutritional value of the food, while inhibiting bacterial growth.
Most food items are priced between S$3.50 and S$5. You can pay with NETs, cash, or credit cards.
VendCafes can have an impact on Singaporeans’ wallets by:
1. Cutting Down on Delivery Costs
If you need a bite at two in the morning, odds are you won’t want to travel. The solution is usually to order from 24/7 food delivery options, which are mostly online. Most of these come with delivery charges, which range from S$2 to well over S$5.
But because VendCafes are open 24/7, they give you the option of popping downstairs for a bite whenever you like.
On top of that, it seems VendCafes can fit into void decks everywhere. Imagine if we get to a point where there’s one of these below every few blocks: there’ll be no need to pay extra for deliveries, or on taking the bus or train to a nearby eatery.
2. Keeping Prices Low By Competing with Convenience Stores
Convenience stores currently sell quick food as well. These are usually bought and microwaved in the store itself. Prices have crept up over the five years: where once these were priced in the S$3 to S$5 range, comparable to the current VendCafe, there are now products priced as high as S$7 or S$10.
Inflation aside, a lot of this is due to lack of competition. When it’s midnight and there’s no coffee shop open, your option is either the convenience store food or delivery (in which case see point 1).
At present, VendCafes are a cheaper alternative to convenience stores. In the long run, the competition may see convenience stores lower prices or freeze price hikes. Either way, the consumers win.
3. Trimming the Old Instant Noodle Budget
If you have a VendCafe downstairs, you can trim the budget for canned food and instant noodles. A lot of these items – while cheap – are also much less healthy and sold in unnecessary bulk (many of us have gone from buying three-packs to buying 10-packs).
4. More Options for Students and Those on a Tight Budget
VendCafes provide a cheaper alternative to fast food, which will appeal to students and those on a budget. At present, hawker food is the only close competitor in price and dollar value. But for those without access to such amenities (not everyone has a good kopitiam next door), this is salvation from a S$7 or S$10 fast food meal set.
But Will VendCafes Be Good For Your Wallet?
Assuming food standards remain good, VendCafes do have the potential to change consumer habits. Combining low cost and convenience is a tried and tested formula.
If we see more of these in the coming years, it’s plausible that the days of a S$6 convenience store sandwich are truly over. This means more value out of your money when you need a quick meal and are strapped for cash.
Pro-tip: save on your meals by using a cash rebate credit card for dining.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.