[FOCUS] Fresh meat vending machine captures hearts of midnight gourmets

By Park Sae-jin Posted : November 6, 2020, 17:58 Updated : November 9, 2020, 07:40

[Courtesy of Freshstore]

SEOUL -- When a fresh meat vending machine operated by Freshstore was installed for a test operation at a convenience store in Seoul in October this year, many passersby stopped for a glance through the show window with an unfamiliar or curious look and unwittingly pushed their steps into the store to have a close examination.

"At first, many customers entered the store to look at the machine and left after examining it. However, it did not take long for them to get used to it," Freshstore CEO Mark Hyun told Aju News. "They started buying meat from the machine," he said, adding that customers think it is "very useful and convenient."

After urban neighborhood butcher's shops close business at night, convenience stores have been frequented by those who want to buy meat or pick snacks with alcoholic drinks. While convenience stores only offer a small selection of frozen meat and meal kits, or ready-to-eat meal packages containing fresh ingredients, Freshstore's vending machine displays various kinds of fresh meat including beef and pork along with meal kits.

Freshstore, a domestic fresh ingredient vending machine operator, started off as an in-house venture project of South Korea's online butcher's store, and partnered with Ministop, a convenience store franchise, to create a new way of doing business in a country where the late-night snack culture is more active than any other country.

"Customers are showing a positive reaction. Our strength is the ability to sell fresh products even in the middle of the night when local butcher's shops are closed," said Hyun, who gained a little bit of confidence with positive feedback from consumers and is now ready to expand his business to other convenience stores.

Hyun targets young city-dwelling salarymen and single households who do not have time to shop or only need a small portion of food for a single meal. Freshstore's ingredients are supplied through Meatbox's "cold chain," a logistics network that ensures the quality of 90 kinds of meat and fresh vegetables that are available through vending machines.

As a new business, meat vending machines have been adopted in other countries like the United States and France to sell meat, jerky and fresh product for convenient anty-time services that accept digital payment and credit cards. They were run by local butcher's shops, not retail stores.

"We do not have resources to establish a massive distribution infrastructure like Coupang or Market Kurly. So, we are focusing on maintaining a network that can offer customers quality products packaged in small portions," Hyun said. Coupang, the South Korean counterpart of Amazon, and Market Kurly, an online shopping mall, provide overnight fresh grocery delivery services, gaining popularity among working mothers and single households.

[Courtesy of Freshstore]

Fresh meat vending machines were first adopted in South Korea in 2018 at megastores run by the National Agricultural Cooperation (Nonghyup), which has a vast network of loyal clients across the country, but its metallic box-shaped machines were shunned by customers. Referring to Nonghyup's failure, Hyun came up with a fresh idea and large window glasses displaying meat and fresh products inside a showroom-like refrigerator.

"Their problem was that machines had no show windows. People just did not buy what they could not see," Hyun said, adding customers can be attracted to products which they can see with their own eyes. Another attractive characteristic of Freshstore's service is its ability to sell fresh meat regardless of place or time.

Freshstore, which now operates meat vending machines in six stores in Seoul, aims to set up shop-in-shop or directly-managed stores. Hyun also thinks about installing machines at resorts and outdoor camping sites, taking advantage of a camping boom caused by a COVID-19 pandemic.

"Our next step is to offer fresh seafood through our vending machines," Hyun said. "We have a lot to work on. Seafood is very easy to go off and they also create a fishy smell. These are problems we have to solve."
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