Fresh salad vending machines thrive in New Eastside

Sitting at the base of the 111 E. Wacker Pedway escalator, a teal-colored nook holds a culinary surprise: A five-foot-wide box dispensing recyclable jars filled with salad.

“It’s very transparent what’s in the actual salad,” said Paul Williams, who, like many Farmer’s Fridge fans, visits the wood-pan- eled vending machine multiple times a month. The kiosk, installed in 2016, was the first of two to open in the area. A second opened in Lake Point Tower (505 N. Lake Shore Dr.) earlier this year.

“These machines have been solid for us to date,” says Farmer’s Fridge Marketing VP Nadine Rich. “People have been receptive and happy to have wholesome [meals] conveniently located nearby.”

After spending months on the road as a traveling salesman, Farmer’s Fridge CEO

Luke Saunders longed for healthy, fresh food at his fingertips. He founded Farmer’s Fridge in 2013, with the philosophy that “eating well shouldn’t be hard.”

“It’s easy, [and] it’s cheap,” says Herbert Wennink, who stumbled upon the 111 E. Wacker machine a year ago. Wennink was especially impressed the machine gave him credit when a salad slot was empty.

Salads are made fresh each morning at a Fulton Market facility and are distributed to more than 60 kiosks across the region. At the end of the day, each fridge sends a produce order to the kitchen, over a cloud-based wireless network.

“Our menu is dynamic, day-to-day,” says Rich. Salads include fresh-cut vegetables like carrots, avocado and asparagus, which are stacked underneath layers of greens and a carton of dressing. Customers punch in orders on an extra-wide touchscreen, and pay by cash or credit card. A vigorous shake is all it takes to combine the ingredients in the jar. According to Rich, a typical transac- tion takes between 30 and 45 seconds.

The menu includes a selection of about seven salads, ranging from about $8 to $12, along with snacks, a handful of breakfast items and LaCroix water. The 111 E. Wacker kiosk offers bags, plates, napkins, forks and spoons, though supplies can run low at lunchtime.

According to Rich, the future for more Farmer’s Fridges in New Eastside looks bright.

“We are constantly looking to expand our locations,” says Rich.

— Tricia Parker, Staff Writer

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