In France, you can now buy oysters straight out of a vending machine

ILE DE RE, France, Aug 3 (Reuters) - In a change from chocolates and fizzy drinks, the French are starting to offer fresh oysters from vending machines in the hope of selling more of the delicacy outside business hours.

One pioneer is Tony Berthelot, an oyster farmer whose automatic dispenser of live oysters on the Ile de Re island off France's western coast offers a range of quantities, types and sizes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

French oyster farmers are following in the footsteps of other producers of fresh food who once manned stalls along roadsides for long hours but now uses machines.

"We can come at midnight if we want, if we have a craving for oysters. It's excellent; they're really fresh," Christel Petinon, a 45-year-old client holidaying on the island, told Reuters.

Related: Odd history of vending machine

The History of the Vending Machine
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The History of the Vending Machine

The history of the vending machine goes back further than you might think. Scholars believe it dates back to the life and times of the man dubbed Hero of Alexandria, a first-century engineer and mathematician who thoughtfully crafted a machine that dispensed holy water after a coin was inserted. Fast-forward many centuries later and the vending machine as we know it was born: In 1880s England, vending machines were originally created to dispense stamps, postcards, and books.

1888: The first vending machine in U.S. sells gum on New York City train platform

The Thomas Adams Gum Company, known as the inventor of modern chewing gum, began selling its chewing gum via a dispenser on a New York City train platform. The first flavor? Tutti-Frutti.

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1902: The first automat opens in Philadelphia

Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart launched the country’s first automat in Philadelphia in 1902. They took the luncheonette concept and were inspired by Berlin's Quisisana Automat, an automatic food service restaurant. The automats featured menu items including macaroni and cheese, baked beans, and creamed spinach, which were particularly popular during the wartime in the U.S.

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1912: The first Automat opens in New York City

Joseph Horn and Frank Hardart opened their flagship automat in New York City in 1912. The automat was a new wonder for city-goers who could drop a nickel into the machine and, depending upon which compartment they chose, would receive their selection just by opening a tiny door. This concept of the automat restaurant quickly swept the nation, with outposts popping up in places from Chicago to Philadelphia to California.

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1913: Ford Gum launches gumball machines

Ford S. Mason, who created and ran the Ford Gum & Machine Co. decided to enter into the gumball business by selling high-quality gumballs in a bulk vending environment. He looked to monetize his business by utilizing charities and nonprofits as an avenue to showcase his vending machines, and also continued to constantly improve the quality of the gum. Shortly thereafter, the gum ball machines could be found on countertops, in stores, and in pipe-rack stands across the country.

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1937: The Vendorlator Manufacturing Company opens its doors

The Vendorlator Manufacturing Company, or VMC, was created by Harry S. Childers and Howard M. Tripp to form a company that produced soda bottle vending machines. The partners crafted vending machines for companies including Pepsi-Cola and the Coca-Cola Company. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, VMC crafted some of today’s most collected and sought-after vending machines, namely the VMC 27 and the VMC 33 models.

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1946: The first coffee vending machines are introduced

Work became a little less stressful after the first coffee vending machine was created in 1946. Workers around the nation found themselves flocking to coffee vending machines for their daily caffeine fix.

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1950: The first refrigerated sandwich vending machine is created

Refrigerated sandwich vendors now offered a variety of sandwiches to the public. Tom’s Toasted Peanuts and Delicious Sandwich vending machine became popular, offering a quick self-serve sandwich for only $0.10.

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1965: Vendorlator merges with its former rival, the Vendo Company of Kansas City, Mo.

VMC decided in 1965 to take their business to new heights by merging with the Vendo Company of Kansas City, Mo., making the combined firm the premier company for vending machines in the soft drink market. The acquisition took two years to complete and the newly merged firm continued to operate out of its Fresno, Calif., headquarters.

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1978: Water vending machines are introduced

Soft drink vending machines companies, such as Coca-Cola, began selling bottled water in separate vending machines as well as offering them in the soft drink vending machines. At the time, the average American drank 1.6 gallons of bottled water a year, according to Beverage Marketing Corp. Plastic bottles were already introduced to the market in 1970, allowing water to be sold in a plastic bottle.

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1991: Coffee vending machines roll out flavored options

Consumers were introduced to machines that produced a variety of flavored coffees, espressos, and cappuccinos, enhancing the enjoyment of one’s coffee break.

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1991: The last automat in New York City shutters

Although the New York Horn & Hardart Automats remained quite popular up until the 1960s, there was a steady decline after that. The last of the Horn & Hardart automats, located on the southeast corner of 42nd Street and Third Avenue, closed its doors in April 1991. Bamn! (pictured) opened on St. Marks Place in New York in 2004, but closed a few years later.

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Present Day

Vending machines have now progressed to sell a variety of food products. Depending on the machine, items can range from beer to bottled alcohol to fresh lobsters to fried foods. There are also many specialty vending machines, particularly in the health and wellness market, that produce healthy snacks and meals for travelers and can often be found in airports.

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The Ile de Re's refrigerated dispenser, one of the first and with glass panels so customers can see what they are buying, is broadly similar to those that offer snacks and drinks at railway stations and office buildings worldwide.

Customers use their bank card for access, opening the door of their choice from a range of carton sizes and oyster types.

Berthelot, thirty years an oyster breeder, sees it as an extra source of revenue rather than an alternative to normal points of sale like food markets, fishmongers and supermarkets.

"We felt as though we were losing lots of sales when we are closed," he said.

"There was a cost involved when buying this machine, of course, but we're paying it back in installments ... And today, in theory, we can say that the calculations are correct and it's working."

Selling oysters from a machine bets on more than just open-mindedness among consumers. Live molluscs not kept cool enough or stored too long out of seawater can cause food poisoning when opened.

The Berthelots say the machine has an appeal to a younger generation accustomed to buying on the internet and unperturbed by the absence of a shopkeeper. (Writing by Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus and Alister Doyle)

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