By Chris Dove, SeafoodSource.com contributing editor, reporting from Malaga, Spain
Published on 30 January, 2012
Emulating Japan’s penchant for 24/7 convenience, an enterprising Spanish family is apparently the first in Europe to sell fresh fish via vending machine, just outside their retail outlet in the Basque Country town of Mungia, in northern Spain.
Eleven years ago, sister-and-brother team Marga and Rubén Ríos opened a fish shop called Arrandegia Martin located 20 kilometers from Bilbao. Recently, they installed the vending machine, first selling ready meals and now offering fresh fish.
After purchase at Mercabilbao fish market in the morning, the fish are cleaned, prepared, packaged and placed into the dispenser. Popular items include cod, salmon, anchovies, hake, baby hake, bass, sardines, shrimp and squid, all clearly labeled with an expiration date. In addition to fresh fish, packs of dried eel fry and tinned anchovies are also available.
Customer convenience is key, said Marga. “We believe this is to go with the times,” she explained. “Today everybody works, and people do not have time to shop. Our customers have confidence in our business and are reluctant to go to the commercial shopping centers. This is a way to supplement our services when the store is closed. It’s the same fish we have on our counter, with the same freshness and the same price.”
Catered toward weekend consumers, the machine vends party packs of freshly cooked seafood items including king prawns, barnacles and small shrimp. “We even sell snails with toothpicks if anyone has an appetite for a Sunday picnic in the park,” joked Marga.
Priced at no more than EUR 10 (USD 13) per item, Marga said the majority of sales occur over the weekend, with younger customers more easily adapting to the concept. “Older people have more hesitation,” she said.
“To my knowledge, we are the only ones in the Basque Country using a vending machine for fresh fish. Our neighbors are very happy with this initiative,” said Marga.