By Ian Reynolds-Young
The marketing video says it’s ‘the UK’s first hot food vending solution’ and The Big Kitchen range, by Malton Foods, is available exclusively from Automatic Retailing.
It seems to tick all the boxes: it’s an ambient product, so it doesn’t need a chilled vending machine. It’s only available through the vending channel, so there’s no chance you’ll find yourself undercut by the local discounters.
There are seven varieties and each one is a complete meal solution. Each one is ‘perfectly portioned’ to provide ‘tasty, balanced nutrition’; they’re all less than 350 calories and they’re ready to eat after 3 minutes (max) in the microwave. What’s more, consumers will be pleased to see that there are no artificial colours, preservatives or flavours lurking within The Big Kitchen range.
Shelf life isn’t a problem: all the meals are good for a full 12 months. I won’t get all technical on you, but it’s all down to an ingenious process of slow, high pressure steam cooking. Not only that, the compact packaging is ideal for presentation in vending machines.
All of which sounds great, but…
If you’re like me – an old cynic – you probably imagine that the one thing this tidy little range lacks is ‘flavour and texture’.
The proof is in the eating of course and that’s why the team at PV put the product to the test with a special ‘Big Kitchen’ lunch. We ate the meals just as they came. No proper plates; just the container and no knife and fork; just the supplied ‘spork’.
I went for the lamb hot pot. The sliced potatoes on top were thin and delicious and the lamb and vegetables right on the money. I’m not comparing it with the fare at Le Manoir Au Quat’Saisons by any means, but it was tasty, piping hot and it smelled wonderful. The little plastic spork did its job. At three in the morning, in the middle of a shift, this could make some poor soul feel much, much better.
Mrs R-Y, (that’s her in the main picture), was equally appreciative of the chilli con carne whilst Mr M enjoyed the chicken curry. Although, typically, he’d have liked it to have been ‘a bit spicier’. (Like he needs more spice in his life?!)
All that’s needed to support the vending machine is a microwave oven and, hey presto! An instant solution to out-of-hours hunger.
Sales have begun to build and you have to conclude that that’s down to ‘word of mouth’, to personal recommendations between colleagues; because once you’ve tasted these Big Kitchen meals, you’re converted. At least we were.
We’ve suffered some indifferent products in recent years where ‘box ticking’ has led to compromise and ultimately to an unsatisfactory eating experience. The Big Kitchen hasn’t fallen into that trap.
We’d recommend, when you launch The Big Kitchen at your key locations, that you start off with a bang with a bells-and-whistles sampling campaign. That would speed up ‘word of mouth’ exposure like nothing else…
* The Big Kitchen is available exclusively to the UK vending trade via sole distributor, Automatic Retailing (Northern) Ltd. For further details, and to place your order, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian Reynolds-Young is Planet Vending’s Editor