One rarely thinks of vending machines as a source of good; we usually think of them as a source of Fritos. But a company from South America is using them to combat food shortages and help those who can’t always afford healthy food. Algramo, a start-up from Chile, elected not to put any prepackaged snacks in their vending machines. Instead, they stock them with food staples—raw and uncooked lentils, rice, chickpeas and beans. Right now they have a small number of machines in poorer neighborhoods on the outskirts of Santiago. Buying staples from small grocers (similar to New York’s bodegas) can cost up to 40 percent more than buying them closer to the city center, and residents often don’t have the means to travel to cheaper stores. The machine will sell all its ingredients by weight, so people can buy exactly the amounts they need or can afford. In addition to making an economic impact on more rural populations, Algramo hopes to make an environmental one as well. When people use their machines for the first time, they will get a container designed to be brought back and refilled at the machines.
So far Algramo provides only dry goods, but they plan to expand soon to sell liquid ingredients like cooking oil or soap.
If business continues to go as planned, they hope to expand to more food deserts in Chile and then the rest of the developing world. American vending-machine companies might want to take note. There are parts of this country that could use more inexpensive food that doesn’t end in “puffs” or “doodles.”