The city already offers fresh Norwegian salmon and chilli crabs from refrigerated boxes. And that’s before one considers the skyscraper-sized luxury car vending machine.
The latest addition to the line-up is by EasyMeat, which is now selling Australian wagyu beef from six machines across the island. Burger patties cost S$10.90 (USD$8.10) for 300g, 200g of ribeye costs S$25.90 (USD$19.20) and a 200g strip-loin costs a little less.
These are portioned, frozen and vacuum packed before being put in smart machines located largely in residential areas that target younger beef connoisseurs.
“Singaporeans are generally tech savvy and have a sophisticated taste, so you not only see a wider range of products in vending machines, the value of the products is also increasing,” said co-founder Mervin Tham.
“They don’t just sell drinks and snacks, you can now buy clothes and high-priced items like chilli crabs. This suggests that people are willing to pay and have greater trust in buying from a metal box when sometimes they cannot even see the product. We saw that potential.”
The vending machines’ USP is the convenience to buy a wagyu cut at any time of the day or night from a vending machine near to home. But do Singaporeans really wake up in the middle of the night craving something marbled and potentially medium-rare?
Though the machines obviously accommodate impulse purchases, Tham says this convenience angle centres on the availability of wagyu at stores and supermarkets. The meat is not stocked widely, so an EasyMeat box would save a separate trip to the store.
In addition, at a time when people might be more reticent to spend too much time in crowded places, there is a lot less bustle around the vending machines than at the meat counter.
“There’s also the novelty factor of buying from vending machines, which is popular in Japan or Korea, so you get that overseas experience. In focus groups, we have found that people are receptive to this business concept,” said Tham.
At first, Tham and his two co-founders, who have commercial backgrounds in the energy industry, had looked at meat drop-shipments through e-commerce. That fell by the wayside on the realisation that a warm body was needed to receive the frozen beef, or else it would thaw out in the porch or shoe cabinet.
Instead, the meat vending machines occupy a niche, which the team cling to assiduously. Instead of plastering the devices throughout the island, they aim to increase the number this year to 10 at strategic locations of high residential footfall and low concentration of competing retailers. This is in spite of regular inquiries from shopping malls, which are not of much interest to the founders.
The start-up has also started rolling out EasyCart smart fridges that will pave the way for product expansion. These clear cabinets allow the buyer to see what their purchases, and in time they will enable the brand to introduce complementary premium food products with sauces and seasonings.
“We are doing well in terms of top-line sales. A lot of our focus now is on how we can adjust costs to improve the bottom line. We are looking at a different product mix and tightening the replenishment run,” said Tham.