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Automatic advancement

David Llewellyn, the Chief Executive of the Automatic Vending Association (AVA) explains why the vending and automated retail sector has not only survived the disruption of the pandemic but now looks set to thrive

In 2021, the Automatic Vending Association (AVA), the trade body of the vending industry in the UK, changed its name to AVA: The Vending & Automated Retail Association. This was to reflect a growth in popularity of micro-markets, basically self-serve stores offering a range of food and drink, which saw an increase of 25 per cent between 2020 and 2021.

The AVA is a not-for-profit organisation that aims to support its members with government lobbying, best practice guidance and collaboration opportunities. It has seen many changes since its inception in 1929, but arguably the most challenging has been the impact of the pandemic which initially resulted in a massive fall in demand – followed by a surge of interest in vending solutions which help clients manage hybrid working patterns.

The AVA is headed up by Chief Executive, David Llewellyn, who joined in 2018, bringing over 25 years of experience in the sector; as a supplier of ingredients and equipment for Nestlé Vending’s MultiSnack; as a national operator through his own vending company Boxlogix and as a vending equipment manufacturer and supplier at Seaga Manufacturing.

He says the official wording for the AVA, ‘the trade body and voice for the automated 24-hour food and beverage industry in the UK’ covers a multitude of areas: “Including training, guidance, quality standards and to ensure that for clients, they know that if they’re working with an AVA member they are guaranteed a certain quality of service.”

But he adds: “Increasingly we have become more and more involved in lobbying and the representation of the industry, not just vending as shown in our name change.”

He cites as just one example plans by the Scottish Single Use Disposable Cup group, who were piloting a 20 to 25p levy for every single use cup. While you can expect to pay at least £3.00 in a coffee shop, in vending the average charge is 36p, so the negative impact of that on an industry where over two thirds of the income comes through coffee would be devastating. The AVA’s role is to monitor this and help people understand how these kinds of proposals could affect an entire industry.

He warns: “This is just one in dozens of pieces of legislation, all of which could have an impact on vending. When we moved out of the EU, our assumption was that the regulations would move towards Westminster, but that’s not been the case. If you look at what went on with COVID, each of the home nations, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England all had different view on how things were meant to be handled.

“The same goes for vending related regulations, so now we might be dealing with legislation covering one item – say plastic waste, but each of the home countries as well as the EU and ROI [Republic of Ireland] all have different consultation processes. This means for one item we might be dealing with five or six different approaches.”


According to AVA figures, pre-pandemic turnover for vending was £2.2 billion, which dropped by nearly 40 per cent during COVID, but the sector has bounced back, with figures showing 16 per cent growth from 2020 to 2021. According to Llewellyn this year’s AVA’s annual census, which went out in January and looks at turnover for 2022, is likely to show the industry is back to 2019 levels or above.

He explains: “Given that 70 to 75 per cent of our machines are in business and industry, the business bit was the hardest hit by the pandemic, while the industry bit actually grew, because that included logistics, wholesale, warehousing, distribution and retail – all of which went through the roof.

“There are still some difficulties, for instance smaller companies which were offering coffee in central London offices where there isn’t the throughput anymore have been struggling, but in larger offices and industrial units that’s less of an issue.”

Post-pandemic work patterns have also had a huge impact on the sector. Llewellyn explains that in large offices where there is often a fraction of the people it may not be practical to run a full-service canteen, especially when people are extending their working time when in the workplace, so no longer require a traditional nine to five service.

He says: “What we have seen is that the caterers and FM companies may have four or five sites and may service local sites with automated retail units, fridges and microwaves. These micro markets can be anything from room sized to the provision of a smart fridge and a microwave.

“Where you can’t have catering staff on site all the time, vending and automated retail is a great cost effective alternative where it’s more practical and convenient.”

About Sarah OBeirne

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