-night convenience stores still years away, Grand Union, in a quirky display of forward-mindedness, established a row of vending machines across the front of its headquarter's market in Paterson, N.J., in the mid-1950s. The machines went beyond carrying products that were normally vended and included meat, fish and dairy products. The vending machines operated 24 hours a day with price listings on each, and there was a coin machine situated nearby for ease of shopping. The offerings included everything from milk, butter, cream, cheese and eggs to breads, coffee, fish, canned tuna, cold cuts and luncheon meats.
The product mix is largely reminiscent of the mix that would later appear when the 24-hour convenience store emerged. While Grand Union was sold off and no longer exists, over four decades ago it was on the leading edge of the convenience format. Vending machines were eventually abandoned in favor of more familiar formats like the ubiquitous convenience stores and gas station markets that offer the bare minimum of food items that consumers need in a hurry. Now the constant struggle over share of stomach among more traditional grocery stores and their newer competitors, including c-stores and supercenters, is old news.