What products can be sold in a vending machine?

smart vending machine with black screen

We are frequently asked: “Can this product be sold in a vending machine?” While snacks and drinks ranging from chips to chocolate bars and still water to energy drinks are the most sold products in vending machines, you’d be surprised to learn what can be and has been sold through vending machines. Let’s first take a step back.

What products were sold in the first vending machines?

There is a surprising amount of controversy about what constitutes the first vending machines. Was it the holy water dispensed in first-century Egypt in exchange for a coin? The tobacco dispensers in pubs in the 1600s or a coin-operated postcards machine in the late 1880s in the UK? Yet others claim chewing gum vending machines in the New York City elevated railway were the first.

No one is quite sure, and the debate will likely continue just as long as the original pizza debate.

What we do know is soon after those postcard machines in the 1880s, chocolates, chewing gum, soaps, matches, and more were sold in vending machines.

The first soft drinks vending machine is from the late 1930s. Vendo, founded in 1937, was one of the first innovators in this field and to this day is selling thousands of vending machines, now under the name SandenVendo.

Since then, pretty much anything you can imagine has been sold in a vending machine.
We have picked some of our favorite vending machines.

A few of our favorite things… to sell in a vending machine

Sanitary products and COVID 19 tests

The pandemic has led to some rapid innovations. Many of our customers, like Selecta, quickly added hand sanitizers and masks to their assortment. Soon after, a colleague from our Hong Kong office spotted the first vending machines dispensing COVID 19 tests. These machines have become more prevalent, with a recent Forbes article highlighting the trend at US airports.

To respond to challenging pandemic times, the Invenda team also worked on some practical and convenient shopping solutions and how to safely provide necessary PPE equipment, which is another example of un limitless opportunities that vending machines can provide.


Gold bars

While many economists no longer believe in the gold standard, gold is still seen as a safe and predictable investment by many across the globe. So, it comes as no surprise that someone thought about selling it in the most anonymous and convenient way there is: through a vending machine. Gold vending machines first popped up in the Emirates and have spread all the way to the UK. Even The Guardian reported on these vending innovations.


We talk a lot about vending machines becoming more and more premium. And so, we are never surprised when we hear about vending machines dispensing gourmet products, such as champagne. We have also heard of vending machines selling caviar in Moscow, cigars in fancy speakeasies, and even live crabs in Nanjing, China.

T-Shirts, tights, and umbrellas

We admit we’ve all been there. You didn’t check the weather, spilled some ketchup, or just forgot to pack the necessities for a trip. In Japan, where there are more vending machines per capita than anywhere else in the world, you will be able to find umbrellas, shirts, socks, and much more. Uniqlo recently started using vending machines to dispense products. 


It is said that the first vending machine to sell books was dreamed up to sell seditious books that could get a bookseller into trouble. There are also schools repurposing their vending machines to sell books instead of sugary snacks and drinks. Even Amazon has experimented with selling their eReader, the Kindle, in vending machines. This intriguing book vending machine became popular among readers throughout the years, as you can read in Bookstr, and some amazing solutions are yet to come. 

But will my product really fit in a vending machine?

Yes, vending machines are very flexible. For example, in Invenda’s vending machines, the height of the shelves can easily be adjusted to accommodate products of all heights. Depending on the width of the spiral 1, 2, even 4 spirals can be configured to dispense the product perfectly. Finally, spirals or conveyors can be used, depending on what’s best for your product and its shape and packaging.  

For delicate products, such as Lindt’s chocolate bunny, we add extra padding to the machine so that all merchandise safely makes it into the hands of your consumers.

During our onboarding with a new customer, we jointly workshop the assortment, discussing the best combination and physical arrangement of the products inside the machine. For customers selling new products in vending machines, we offer to test products in our lab to make sure we can jointly select the best option for dispensing and vending it.

What’s the craziest vending machine you have seen? Let us know and reach out to us here if you’d like to find whether your product could be a good fit for a vending machine.