Imagine standing with your nose pressed against the front of a vending machine, debating what to get. Do you go for the Cool Ranch Doritos? The off-brand protein bar? Or a $21.99 bone-in ribeye?
Joshua Applestone, the founder of Applestone Meat Co., dreams of a future where fresh cuts of meat are legit available at the touch of a button—and for him, the future is right freaking now. He has four meat vending machines outside the Applestone Meat Co. headquarters in Stone Ridge, New York, and each one dispenses a different kind of meat: there’s one for beef, for lamb, for pork, and for ground meats and sausages.
“We’re not in the 1950s anymore, where everyone works 9 to 5 and eats at the same time every night,” Applestone said by way of explanation even though these glorious meat dispensers need no such thing. “Life is chaotic. At best.”
But Applestone isn’t content to give push-button meat access to the residents of Ulster County. He told Bloomberg that, by 2019, he hopes to have expanded into Manhattan. (Even though he’s already concerned that a vending machine filled with nothing but high-dollar steaks is probably going to need its own security guard. He’s probably right.)
Right now, the vending machines account for around 70 percent of Applestone’s business, and his self-serve customers currently buy more than 3,000 pounds of meat every week. Each vending machine holds 150-ish items, and the packages of ground beef and steak are on display for six or seven days, respectively—but the meat seems to sell much quicker than that.
But the Applestone Meat Co. aren’t the only ones with 24-7 meat dispensers. In February 2016, the L’Ami Txulette butcher shop in Paris installed the city’s first all-meat vending machine—but the fifth in all of France. The first opened outside a butcher shop in Sainte-Catherine in 2014, where the owner said that she’d swiped the idea from those meat pioneers across the border. “There are about 500 meat vending machines [in Germany],” she told The Telegraph.
In the United States, one of the first meat vending machines was introduced in a convenience store in Alabama in November 2011—but, alas, it was ahead of its time. “Unfortunately the Smart Butcher is no longer around,” the device’s co-founder Chase Evans told MUNCHIES. “We had a refrigerated machine just like the company in New York has, and we placed it in several different high foot-traffic locations to try it out hoping for big success. Seven years ago was a little early for a very futuristic idea. The majority of the general public were very skeptical and scared.”
Fast-forward a few years, and other companies seem to have had better luck. Last spring, a bacon-and-bratwurst filled machine was unveiled outside RJ’s Meats in Hudson, Wisconsin, and it’s still going. (Also, RJ’s has the first Regiomat-branded vending machine in the United States. Those customizable fully automated machines are manufactured in—say it with us—Germany.)
“People called us crazy and laughed, even though we knew it would take off one day,” Evans said —and it seems like he might’ve been right.
I, for one, welcome our new automated meat-dispensing overlords. I also look forward to getting my arm stuck as I try to grab a package of ribeyes that didn’t drop and, yes officer, I swear I paid for these.