Talk about checking off a bunch of trend boxes: convenience, local, technology and cupcakes. At the start of the fall semester, the University of Southern California (USC) teamed up with local cupcake chain Sprinkles to offer students freshly baked cupcakes on demand through an ATM.
Sprinkles uses ATMs to offer cupcakes at their brick-and-mortar stores, particularly for after-hours sales, but the outlet at USC marks the first time the company has opened a machine without a storefront.
“It’s all about location and getting the right fit for [a foodservice option] at that part of campus,” says David Corral, assistant director of retail. “The ATM doesn’t take up a lot of space. Sprinkles is a name brand, so it fits with our goal of bringing excitement to the USC campus.”
Sprinkles provided the ATM machinery for the USC outpost, which is located at the campus bookstore. The ATM doesn’t need refrigeration, as that dries the cupcake out. USC dining services manages vending on campus, and this partnership offered the opportunity to “bring novelty on for the students and offer a different aspect to our vending environment,” Corral says.
Sprinkles determines the menu mix, but the machine can hold up to 1,000 cupcakes at a time, according to Corral. The machine offers more than 30 full-size cupcake varieties, including a sugar-free red velvet and seasonal options.
Sprinkles bakes all cupcakes and delivers them to dining services at USC (Sprinkles’ bakery is located just a few miles away from campus). Dining services normally stocks the machine once a day, although during the initial rollout, demand required an additional stocking. USC and Sprinkles can monitor the sell-through remotely.
“Sprinkles is very concerned with freshness,” Corral says, adding that while the machine can hold 1,000 cupcakes at a time, the most they will stock is 800. Any cupcakes not sold one day are discarded the following day. Interestingly, the prime business hours for both the USC and other Sprinkles machines is midnight.
The first day, the machine sold out, but the daily average is now between 450 and 550 cupcakes sold.
“In general we are trying to be very health-conscious,” Corral says. “When we have a wide variety of options on campus, it fits well. This is a treat.”
Right now students can only pay by credit card, but Corral is working to get the proper technology installed to allow for purchase with dining dollars.
This isn’t the first time USC has gotten creative with its vending program. A few years ago the university opened a Burrito Box, which, you guessed it, offered hot burritos. Corral is working with another company to create a vending machine that would use a crane, allowing USC to sell items not restricted by traditional slot size. That would allow the stocking of more upscale items like composed salads. Students would also be able to place orders by phone and schedule a time for the order to automatically dispense.
USC isn’t alone; other universities are getting on the ATM bandwagon: for example, Xavier University recently opened a pizza ATM.