The hottest butcher in Wisconsin is willing to sell products day or night, takes cash or credit and is never closed during holidays. It’s so popular that people stop in to take selfies while picking up their bratwurst, burger patties or cheese curds. Meet “Regi,” the new meat vending machine installed at RJ’s Meats in Hudson, Wis.
While vending machines in the United States mostly serve sodas and candy bars, German butcher shops have been utilizing them to sell sausages and other products for some time. Rick Reams, owner of RJ’s Meats, first learned about them at the IFFA Show in Frankfurt four years ago, but the manufacturer was not selling them in the United States yet. He renewed his interest at least year’s show and even got to see one in action by visiting a butcher shop in Bavaria.
Reams says he saw the benefits for a meat vending machine right away. RJ’s closes at 7:00PM, and commuters often arrive at the store at 8:00 or later on the way home from work.
“The first thing that I thought of was that it’s a way for me to sell product when I’m not open,” he says. “This was a great way to service customers on a daily basis.”
The machine was delivered several weeks ago and was the first of its kind installed in the United States. Reams earned national publicity with the installation of the machine, and that publicity netted some strong sales. Along with selling product after closing time, the vending machine was a huge success during Memorial Day weekend.
“On Memorial Day, we had a rain shower come through,” Reams relates. “One of my friends contacted me and said, ‘Rick, I just drove by the store, and in the rain, there were six-deep in line to use the vending machine!’ A lot of that was the novelty of it, and people getting to use it. But we sold a lot of holiday items that day.”
Most vending machines are designed to hold an item of a certain size, like a candy bar or a bag of chips. When Reams contacted manufacturers for estimates, they wanted to design units around specific product sizes. Reams’ German machine, on the other hand, allows him to customize the display to hold whatever products he wants.
“I’ve changed some of the offerings out there already, because what I thought might go didn’t go very well as all. If I had bought one of those [other] machines, I would have been stuck with trying to find something else that would fit the same size, where here I can adjust all the package sizes, shelves and displays,” he says.
Reams offers anywhere from five to nine varieties of bratwurst, as well as hamburger patties, wieners and snack sticks. Bacon-wrapped chicken breasts didn’t sell as well as Reams hoped, so he replaced them with cheese curds, which have been very popular. He can monitor all sales through his phone, as well as the cameras that record the machine and its customers at all times.
Since the food inside RJ’s vending machine is much more perishable than the typical vending machine fare, it is equipped with coolers to keep the products at a safe temperature. Should the internal temperature of the machine go over the maximum temperature, it will not dispense products. Reams can also monitor the temperature of the device through his phone, should there be any problems.
Of course, Wisconsin can experience temperature extremes on both the hot and cold side, but Reams says that a similar vending machine is operating fine in the Alps, so Regi should be able to withstand a Wisconsin winter, even up to -20 degrees Fahrenheit.
“I don’t know who is going to be coming out here at 20 below to buy snack sticks out of a vending machine,” Reams says, “but there will probably be somebody!”