Healthy-meal vending-machine company UpMeals expands

Installations so far include universities, BC Ferries and YVR

Drew Munro
UpMeals CEO Drew Munro stands next to one of his machines | submitted

Vancouver-based UpMeals is capitalizing on people returning to pre-pandemic, on-the-go lifestyles by installing healthy-food vending machines in busy public places as well as corporate offices.

New installations include Vancouver International Airport, the Tsawwassen BC Ferries terminal, the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University.

In total, the company has installed 12 of its vending machines in public spaces and corporate offices. CEO Drew Munro told BIV that he has contracts to install another 12 machines in the next three months – including ones at BCIT and Capilano University. His goal is by the end of the year to have a total of 50 machines either in operation or under contract for installation.

The machines carry items such as salad bowls, vermicelli chicken bowls, tuna tabbouleh wraps and cold-pressed juices.

The venture’s first installations in fall 2020 were in corporate offices, where executives were trying to lure back staff. UpMeals then installed the healthy-food vending machines in condominium buildings, although sales fell short of expectations and those machines have since been yanked.

“What we really wanted to do was put these into public, accessible high-traffic locations,” said Munro, who was a BIV Forty Under 40 winner last year. “That was always our goal.”

The Vancouver Airport Authority (VAA) told BIV in a statement that its goal is to provide “fresh, local and authentic” meals around the clock.

The UpMeals machines at YVR are all behind security, and they include three in the domestic terminal, one in the U.S. terminal and one in the international terminal.

The UpMeals SmartVending machines give travellers choice even when other vendors may be closed,” the VAA said, adding that the machines have popular enough for some to sell out of all meals by the end of the day.

Its revenue-sharing agreement with UpMeals helps it fund airport operations.

Munro aims to expand into additional airports.

He ditched his company’s original business model of charging businesses to install the machines, and now provides the machines for free. UpMeals maintains the machines by regularly restocking them. In most cases there is a revenue-sharing component, as there is at YVR.

Munro aims to make the 45-employee company profitable by early 2023, while generating “millions” in revenue.

His company is outgrowing the shared south Vancouver facility where its workers prepare meals so it is building its own 13,000-square-foot facility near East First Avenue and Boundary Road that it plans to occupy by the end of the year.