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WASHINGTON -- The train station at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where a giant automated convenience store now offers commuters and airport patrons everything from portobello goat cheese sandwiches ($4.95) to San Pellegrino water ($2.25).
"We want to break the mold of what vending is all about," Mark McGuire, development director for Redbox, the brand name for the hopped-up 18-foot-wide vending machine, told The Baltimore Sun. "Americans have a very set mindset about what vending is, and it's generally not good."
McGuire said Redbox could change the world of vending, one goat cheese sandwich at a time. The machine at the BWI Rail Station is only the third of its kind in the country, and it stocks 140 different products - some of them such typical fare as candy bars and others less typical: tampons (10 for $4.25) and toilet paper (four rolls for $2.45). There's also orange juice ($3.25) and milk ($2).
While more Redboxes are planned for the Baltimore region in the next few months, there are no immediate plans for nationwide expansion. McDonald's will wait to see how consumers in this test market respond. Redbox keeps everything at about 40 degrees -- good for milk, not so good for jelly beans. Or tampons. The BWI Rail Station is the first test of Redbox with commuters, and officials expect lots of exposure. The station is Amtrak's 16th-busiest in the country, with 519,000 people getting on or off a train there annually. It is also a popular Maryland Rail Commuter station, with about 1,000 daily boardings, the report said.
The machine was installed at one end of the train station's parking garage, next to where shuttles arrive for the airport and nearby hotels. The garage is owned by the Maryland Transit Administration, which is charging Redbox $15,000 a year.
Whether the $5 gourmet sandwiches and $3.50 carrot cumin soups will appeal to consumers is still an open question. One marketing expert said McDonald's must overcome the popular perception that products from a vending machine are inferior - not to mention products from McDonald's.
But the machine is still far from being perfect, the Baltimore Sun report found. A customer testing the machine bought lunch from Redbox, selecting the lunch combo (turkey and mozzarella sandwich, tomato and asparagus salad, chocolate chip brownie) for $5.95 and a bottle of Sprite for $1.25. Paying with a $20 bill turned out to be a mistake. Redbox does not dispense dollar bills as change, so a cascade of coins poured out of the machine. "It might be better to try the debit or credit card payment option," the report said.
While Redboxes generally stock the same items, no matter their site, there are some differences by region. "We're very passionate about providing the products customers wanted," McGuire said. "But, without making any moral or political statements, I don't think it fits with the type of product we want to provide. It's not the type of business we want to run right now."