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Mechanical Meals

The Rise of Fresh Food Vending Machines

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Last Updated: 04/03/2018 12:10 pm
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Josh Applestone, loaded down with ready to vend. - ROY GUMPEL
  • Roy Gumpel
  • Josh Applestone, loaded down with ready to vend.

If you want it, and you want it now, there's a place to go. Especially if it's meat—locally sourced raw meat—that you desire. Entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the vending machine business in the Hudson Valley. It's modern, convenient and oh, so cool. Using vending machines for fresh food delivery may not yet be a visible business trend, but they're multiplying. Freshness, a lasting food trend, could become available around the clock.

Josh Applestone, craft butcher of Applestone Meat Company and the founder of Fleisher's Grass-fed and Organic Meats, has installed two carousel refrigerated vending machines in a room adjacent to the Applestone meat processing plant in Accord. They're available 24/7 with Cryovac-packaged, fresh, USDA- approved meat. All the products come directly from a local farm to the processing plant and finally to the vending machine.

The vending machines featured at the Horn & Hardart Automats Applestone recalls from childhood were his initial inspiration. Put in a nickel, open the glass door, reach in, and pull out an inexpensive and nourishing meal. It was all the rage. "They made a big impression on me," Applestone says, "which I hope will translate into the experience people have with our vending machines."

One-time vegans, Josh and Jessica Applestone, have long been pioneers in the sustainable meat industry. They revived nose-to-tail butchering in retail stores that offered a purchasing alternative to factory farming by sourcing from small local farms. "When we opened, we stuck with traditional products: steak, chops, burger meat, sausages—everything you'd find in the traditional butcher shop of times like my grandfather's," says Applestone, "but we reinvented it. What we did didn't exist before, except in shares of beef directly from small farms. It was sourced carefully, and still is; we brought attention to some oft-neglected cuts to promote the noise-to-tail/no-waste philosophy—not to mention that it tasted miraculously better than any other meat out there." Their first Fleisher's shop, in Kingston, fostered conscious consumers who now knew where their meat was coming from. It was locally raised, grass-fed, and organic, and had no antibiotics or hormones. "There has been a real change in the industry since we started Fleisher's," says Applestone. "And a lot of the people who started small butcher shops across the country walked through our doors."

As there is no retail shop at Applestone's it's possible to offer more affordable good quality, local meats—a sustainable approach. "By not having a shop we can keep all of our manpower at the back of the house," Applestone says. "In directing the energy of our consumer toward an automated system, we can focus the majority of our energy toward running the safest and most productive facility possible." The facility's multifaceted staff members are not just counter people.

Applestone's first foray into achieving the goal of increased affordability and accessibility is the installation of the two vending machines in Accord. "It's served as a kind of prototype for what's to come," says Applestone. "The response has been huge, and it's helped us shape where we're headed with this concept."

Tammy Carlile, who lives in Kerhonkson and works in Kingston, stops by the Accord location frequently to use the vending machines. "I hadn't been able to eat meat," she says. "Because of some general allergies to antibiotics, I'd get migraines when I did." Tammy has tried the hot dogs, sausages, and rib-eye steaks and doesn't get sick anymore. She's thrilled with the meat she can now purchase easily, any time, that comes from pasture-fed animals without antibiotics.

Applestone will have a new location in Stone Ridge open by the end of the summer with three new machines that are temperature-monitored, with food safety systems in place. "There will be more convenient features," Applestone says. "For example, you won't have to swipe your card multiple times to make multiple purchases, like you do with the ones we have now. We'll be introducing informative elements, like touch-screen displays with detailed product information. Expect some new kinds of products, new packaging. Also fun elements for kids and pets."

The Applestones are also interested in the community-oriented aspect of their business. They've started a garden and hope to create a lasting environment that their friends, families, and visitors to the region can enjoy for a long time to come. Applestone says, "Like the Automats, I want to make something that will be engrained in people's memories forever, something that they'll tell their kids about."

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