Japanese vending machines

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Hot and cold

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Walking the streets of Tokyo and feeling thirsty? Not a problem! Around half of the vending machines are filled with beverages.

Japanese innovators have improved the user interface of the machines in several ways. Most machines are upgraded with colored lights and stickers to indicate if the drink is hot, cold or out of stock. Cold drinks include soft drinks and bottles of water, and hot drinks range from canned coffee to canned soup.

Beverage machines that sell cold drinks are a must in the hot summers of Japan, but the sales of those machines are much lower in the winter. The UCC (Ueshima Coffee Company) came with a solution in 1969 for the diminished sales in winter with the invention of canned coffee that could be sold either hot or cold. This would eliminate the need for a water supply to the vending machine, which was needed for machines to make fresh coffee. The product became an instant hit with the public and the UCC competitors alike. This innovation helped triple the number of machines in five years, and the numbers grew six times their size in fifteen years. Even today canned coffee is popular with customers, with often many different brands and flavors in the same machine. The competition of new products is incredibly fierce; in a two-year period in the 1980s, more than 140 new types of coffee were introduced to be sold in vending machines. [Parry 1997, p 125-7]

Selling a lot of cans and PET bottles generates a lot of waste, but that those can be recycled. Some machines have built-in trash cans, which can be easily picked up by an employee who also restocks the machine with new products. The used cans will then be shredded, the decoration removed by heating and then melted back into ingots to be processed into new cans.[Cf]