Strawberry Fields, a vertically integrated cannabis operator in Colorado with four dispensaries in the state, is preparing to debut four cannabis vending machines at its Pueblo Central location.
General Manager Ethan Shean said the Strawberry Fields team has been working with Anna, the company providing the cannabis vending machines, for roughly nine months to implement the automated, self-processing and compliant machines at its dispensary.
“[The vending machines are] basically meant for the daily shopper, the daily consumer that really needs minimal assistance in cannabis purchasing, while maintaining all the compliance metrics that Colorado provides,” Shean told Cannabis Dispensary.
The Strawberry Fields team tries to stay up to date on emerging trends, he added, and while they were interested in the opportunity upon initially hearing about it, the need for the vending machines only increased as the COVID-19 pandemic descended on the U.S.
“Especially given the state of our nation in early 2020, we thought [the vending machines] could be beneficial in taking the necessary precautions with minimal contact to deal with the whole pandemic and its spread,” Shean said.
The vending machines allow customers to complete their transactions with minimal contact with and assistance from Strawberry Fields’ dispensary staff, although the machines are still located inside the store, meaning that the doorman must still validate customers’ identification before they can proceed to the machines.
Once checked in, if a customer chooses to use a vending machine, he or she can choose product on the screen, and then a member of the dispensary’s staff, called an “Anna agent,” will validate the purchase and ensure that both the products and the receipt are dispensed correctly.
Strawberry Fields has not hired any new employees to maintain the vending machines, but instead plans to assign the task to members of its seasoned and tenured staff, who will also still be available for traditional in-store transactions.
“You’re going to have highly dedicated and knowledgeable budtenders to assist in any type of transaction, if you’d like to try the machine or you’d like to speak with a friendly budtender and have the transaction that way,” Shean said. “We’re still open to both processes.”
Strawberry Fields is implementing strict SOPs for the inventory inside the machines, which includes flower, edibles and vape cartridges, so that the first items in will be the first items out and fresh product will always be stocked.
The company expects to launch the vending machines in early September, Shean said, after completing closed testing.
“Compliance is the key to our survival, so we’re really putting it through rigorous testing in a lot of different scenarios,” he said. “It’s [one thing] when your M&Ms [get] stuck in the vending machine, but when a $100 ounce gets stuck in the vending machine, I can imagine people are going to have not-the-best feelings for that. So, we’re really putting it through rigorous testing and just making sure that when it rolls out, it’s a success.”
Strawberry Fields currently operates two dispensaries in Pueblo, one in Trinidad and one in Downieville. If the rollout of the vending machines in the first store is successful, the company will consider installing them in a majority, if not all, of its retail locations, Shean said.
“We’re pretty excited for the public trial,” he said.