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Pulmuone pushes for ready-meal vending machines in Korea

Feb. 7, 2023 - 16:59 By Lee Yoon-seo
The Yokai Express vending machine in Echigo-Yuzawa Station in Yuzawa, Japan (Yokai Express Instagram)

Korean food giant Pulmuone is in talks with US food-tech company Yokai Express to sign a deal before July for the launch of vending machines that can cook instant meals, the firm said Tuesday.

"Pulmuone is in due process of securing exclusive rights to distributing and installing Yokai Expresss' vending machines that will sell Pulmuone's products in Korea," a Pulmuone official told The Korea Herald.

"We aim for the contract to be signed during the first half of this year," he said.

Yokai Express manufactures vending machines that can cook simple meals. When an order is placed, food products such as noodles and soup that were stored in a frozen state are thawed, heated and served within two minutes, according to Yokai Express.

The menu items differ by machine but mainly include tonkotsu ramen, kimchi ramen and udon.

Yokai Express' vending machines operate in subway stations across Japan and are installed at 50 locations in the US, including airports, hospitals and hotels. They also serve employees at the US headquarters of a slew of industry giants such as Netflix and Marriott Hotel.

One industry source told The Korea Herald that Yokai Express vending machines have been selling products that use Pulmuone's vegan meat and tofu to employees at Tesla's headquarters in Austin, Texas.

The collaboration between the two companies comes as Pulmuone has sought to continue to expand its automated food services.

In 2019, Pulmuone released Smart Snack Life, a smart vending machine that sells fresh food such as fruits, salads and home replacement meals. The food's shelf life is monitored by the company through a mobile app, and staffers can discontinue sales of any food that have passed its expiry date remotely through the app.

"(The recent push for collaboration) is part of strengthening Pulmuone's unstaffed business lineup," said an official from Pulmuone.

"We aim to meet consumers' demand for freshly cooked food, as we noticed that demand for them was high while operating Smart Snack Life," he added.