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Wow Bao Shares Automated Vending Experience During RTN Town Hall

Restaurant brands leaned in to hear how Wow Bao is leveraging modern automated vending kiosks to serve hot baos to more and more hungry customers.
wow bao kiosk
The automated vending kiosk is QR code-driven: every menu item has a unique QR code identifier which helps ensure traceability, life cycle and facilitates marketing to help promote a zero-waste environment.
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Restaurant Technology Network (RTN)’s town hall on automated vending gave a peek behind the curtain at Wow Bao and provided inspiration for how savvy brands might leverage this lucrative revenue stream.

Hosted by RTN Co-Founder Angela Diffly, the town hall featured Geoff Alexander, Wow Bao CEO, and President and Josh Rosenberg, CEO and CRO, Just Baked, a provider of automated – and hot – vending kiosk solutions.  

The Time is Right 

Automated vending is a 95-year-old $35 billion industry; however, the technology that combines automated vending and hot food is a relatively new innovation, Rosenberg explained. This hot concept is now available at 200 Just Baked locations and counting.

Automated Vending

Today’s consumers are looking for easy ways to grab-and-go their next snack or meal and are digitally savvy. Sixty (60%) of 1,000 consumers surveyed rather have automation than deal with a human, according to a recent Vending Times survey that Rosenberg cited. 

“Bringing automation to food through proximity, that's the future. We want food. We want it where we are, when we want it, the way we want it to be,” Rosenberg said.  “That’s what consumers expect today.”

The Change Agent

Restaurant operators were leaning in to hear what Wow Bao’s Alexander had to say about the lucrative channel. Last year  Wow Bao launched with 50 automated vending kiosks.  One of the most innovative brands in the restaurant space, Wow Bao was named   HT’s 2022 Industry Hero for its dark kitchen concept.  In addition to its brick and mortar and virtual success, Wow Bao’s CPG brand  is available in 5,000 supermarkets across the country, including Walmart.  ​​​​​​​

wow bao
Wow Bao's delicious baos are steamed to perfection, making them ideal for hot vending kiosks.

Wow Bao first looked at the hot food vending channel about eight years ago, Alexander explained. That startup did not make it, he recalls. ”We never got to launch with them. But we always kept this in the back corner of our eye: how we can get our product involved with hot food vending,” he said. 

The Golden Opportunity

These days, Wow Bao has national distribution. To prepare, the bao is steamed.  It holds refrigerated or frozen. “So it checks all the boxes,” Alexander recalls.   

Alexander loves the speed, the look of the Just Baked kiosks wrapped in Wow Bao branding, and the resulting product that is in the consumer’s hands in under 90 seconds.

“So this to us is sort of a golden opportunity that doesn't come along for a lot of our competitors,” he said.  “They can't play in the sandbox. And it allows us to really promote ourselves and do something that a lot of other people can't do.” 

Automated vending is available to brands with other food products across all day parts including cinnamon rolls, sliders, donuts and more. Just Baked is also working with White Castle. “They don't have to be steamed, but Geoff's products do well due to the steaming effect,” Rosenberg added. Just Baked would work with interested brands to ensure the partnership would deliver the right product and quality for the brand. 

Alexander pointed to Just Baked's track record of getting kiosks on college campuses and corporate campuses.

According to Just Baked, the Hot Food Kiosk, which is indoor -only and climate -controlled,  averages:

  • $8.41 per ticket
  • 20 transactions a day
  • 1.4 items per transactions
  • 64 items per kiosk
  • refills 4x a day on a college campus

The system is QR code-driven: every menu item has a unique QR code identifier which helps ensure traceability, life cycle and facilitates marketing to help promote a zero-waste environment.

The QR code also gives the cooking instructions for each item.

“It's not like everything's cooked at the same rate of speed or at the same temperature,” added Alexander. “Each item that's in the machine, (the Just Baked) team has tested to give the best quality of that one item. And that QR code dictates the time of cooking, so it comes out with speed and accuracy every single time.” 

Just Baked’s mobile app and operator back-end will notify operators when they're near depletion so there's just-in-time inventory replenishment before they're out of stock. “They're able to monitor their kiosk almost like I can my health with my Apple Watch,” Rosenberg explained. 

Operators can fulfill their own vending machines or partner with Just Baked and its third-party fulfillment partners.

Be a Part of the Change

In related news, RTN is kicking off a new workgroup,  Standardization Adoption on July 19. Earlier this year, an RTN workgroup released  more than 100 restaurant-industry specific KPIs that are now available to restaurants and suppliers looking to uniformly measure operational efficiencies across a variety of categories. Restaurants, sign up here to save your seat and explore other workgroup opportunities.



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