Meat vending machines a hit
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Meat vending machines a hit

Jun 13, 2023

Jun 4, 2023

Smithmyer Superette owner Jim Gregg opens a vending machine in the lunchroom at Jennmar Corp. in Cresson.Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

LORETTO — After a successful trial run in two area businesses, Smithmyer's Superette plans to expand meat vending machines filled with its smoked snack products throughout Cambria County in the coming months.

Smithmyer's owner Jim Gregg said a trial of the refrigerated vending machines for employees at McAneny Brothers in Ebensburg and Jennmar in Cresson has successfully expanded its customer base and provided easier and convenient access to its popular products.

The expansion culminates about seven months of development working with a large vending machine company to custom design the refrigerated machines to hold the products.

The machines are "the first of its kind in Pennsylvania," Gregg said.

"It's a different concept," said Tom Squashic, Jennmar plant manager. "There's jerky and beef sticks in there. It's a quick source of protein."

A Smithmyer Superette vending machine offers Cheesy Jalapeno smoked meats in the lunchroom at Jennmar Corp. in Cresson.Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski

At Jennmar, 175 employees work nine hours either 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 2 to 11 p.m.

"There are a lot of guys who don't pack a lunch, and this keeps things in motion. It's worked out well. Employees have overall been very positive. I know there is a good variety of flavors and products. It's used daily," Squashic said.

At Jennmar and at McAneny, the meat vending machines are in employee break rooms.

"Everyone talks about how good his beef sticks are from his store," said McAneny's Kevin Barnosky, an equipment and supply buyer/sanitation/maintenance manager.

"It gives our employees (a chance) to get something on their breaks and lunch," Barnosky said.

The smoked snack products sold through the machines range in price from $6.95 for six beef sticks to $7.95 for a half pound of jerky, Gregg said.

"It's nice that the machines have a card reader so you can use debit and credit cards and also cash. It benefits our employees in that they can get what they want. It's not like a normal vending machine in the sense that it sells candy bars for a dollar. These are $7 items, so the card reader is nice," Barnosky said.

At the McAneny warehouse, 265 employees work 24 hours in shifts.

"Jim comes and loads it up. We don't have to do anything," said Barnosky. "It's all brand new to us, and he has come up with a good idea. It's unique. To have someone who makes the stuff and fills the machine himself. It's a really nice setup."

Gregg said he keeps an eye on trends within the meat processing industry and watches for new ideas. He said he noted the success of the machines for a store in Seattle, Washington, and knew it would enable him greater exposure to customers.

"We’re not a USDA-approved facility so we can only sell to customers from our store," Gregg said, "But if I have one of my vending machines outside of your store, I can sell them because it's my vending machine through my ownership, so, it's as if I had someone there selling it through my company."

After talking to others in the industry and to customers, he decided to test the market.

The vending machines are refrigerated and designed so Gregg can remotely monitor machine performance and inventory. While the trial machines sell seven flavors of beef sticks and four flavors of jerky, future inventory may include a pack of hot dogs, or other items that employees could take home to cook for dinner.

"We’re still in the middle of a lot of R&D to see what kind of goes right now. The beef sticks and jerky are selling very well," Gregg said.

Gregg, 31, took over Smithmyer's six years ago and has almost doubled the number of employees to 31. He noted that the meat processing industry is stable, but not many new butcher shops open because of the high expense of equipment needed to process meats, as well as a lack of trained personnel.

"I grew up in Cresson, and I always wanted to own my own business," he said after managing a large membership-only store. He added industrial smokers and has doubled the volume of smoked item sales. "You can't find Smithmyer's beef jerky anywhere else so that's why we started really going after the smoked items because it helps differentiate us and makes us stand out."

His most popular flavors are plain beef stick and Hillbilly Hickory in beef jerky. Among the unique flavors are sweet cigar beef jerky (it has a sweet and smoky flavor) and a bacon cheeseburger beef stick.

"These vending machines are going to allow us to expand our business without having to open more stores. It's how we can get our products into other areas without having to create an entire new business with overhead."

In the future, he’d like to deploy 10 meat vending machines and that would enable him to hire more staff to produce a higher volume of product.

In Japan and Germany, people buy a variety of products out of vending machine stores that are just starting to appear in large urban areas of the United States. The machines can be moved to different locations and offer greater flexibility.

"It's very new to this area. I think it is something we will grow into. Maybe in the near future you may be able to buy a Smithmyer's T-bone steak out of one of our machines."

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