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Locally, vendors not stocking exotic items

Caviar? Expensive jewelry? Grilled-to-order burgers?

You won’t find these things in Fort Wayne-area vending machines.

David Lucas, who worked in the industry for 27 years, remembers when local options were even more limited than they are today.

“It used to be pop and candy bars and potato chips,” he said. “And then the healthy craze started.”

Responding to health-conscious customers eventually meant adding items such as granola bars, fresh fruit, yogurt and bottled water.

Two months ago, Lucas retired and sold Breaktime Vending Co. to Larry Yarnelle, president and owner of Anthony Wayne Vending Co., a Canteen franchisee since 2009. Family-owned Anthony Wayne was founded in 1968.

Yarnelle said the evolution of the machines themselves has been the biggest change in the vending industry over the past 40-plus years.

Back in the late ’70s, all machines were mechanical. You fed in change, pulled a knob and a pack of gum or smokes fell into the bottom trough. Easy peasy.

Machines have become more sophisticated over time – first accepting $1 bills and then $5 bills. One day last week, Yarnelle’s staff installed card readers in five of the company’s 1,800 machines.

Electronics in many machines now ensure that a product is dispensed – ending the days of walking away empty-handed

Newer hot beverage machines also brew coffee on demand instead of selling the freeze-dried stuff.

Anthony Wayne’s vending machines are found in Allen and the six surrounding Indiana counties. They sell salads, sandwiches and burgers that can be heated in a microwave.

The company employs 32 and serves about 600 individual customers.

The fanciest thing Yarnelle has ever seen sold by vending machine was iPhones and $300 headphones. That was four or five years ago in an airport – maybe Detroit or Atlanta. He can’t remember for sure. But those types of products aren’t his style for one big reason: Theft.

“When I lose a candy bar, that’s one thing,” Yarnelle said. “It’s not an item worth $400.”

“To us, it’s all about the numbers and inventory control,” he said. “It wouldn’t take many of those lost to hurt you pretty bad.”

The company’s definition of haute cuisine is a $2.50 hoagie, the highest-price food it sells.

The most expensive overall item Anthony Wayne Vending sells is $5 earphones that can be used with iPods. Those are popular items with IPFW students.

Yarnelle is sending machines outfitted with credit/debit card readers to the IPFW campus, a customer.

“The newer generation,” he said, “they are the plastic people.”

sslater@jg.net

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