Business Management

What are Micro Markets?

December 2, 2022 | By Sonya Lehner

What are Micro Markets?

You want a sandwich, would love a cup of coffee, or simply want something to cure your sweet tooth. You could run to the local convenience store, or maybe there’s a better solution. 

Since the mid-2000s, micro markets have been popping up everywhere: office break rooms, college campuses, hospitals, and hotels — just to name a few. In the U.S. alone, there are almost 26,000 active micro market locations, a number that will continue to grow as micro markets emerge as vending and retail alternative.  

So why micro markets?  

It might be the on-the-go convenience they provide. Or it might be the growth of contactless retail during the pandemic. Ultimately, micro markets provide an easy way to shop — and they could be the next evolution of retail. 

What are micro markets? 

Micro markets are unstaffed, self-service retail spaces that provide food and drink options in unexpected locations. Instead of an employee at a register, micro markets have a self-checkout kiosk for customers to “grab, pay, and go.” They’re popping up in break rooms, lobbies, and other locations where people are looking for easy food options — often as a replacement for a vending machine

Think of a micro market as similar to a small-format convenience store. Micro markets often feature a mix of open shelving and refrigerated cases to offer sandwiches, salads, fruits, vegetables, and other perishable foods alongside typical snacks and drinks.  

Because an independent operator handles restocking and inventory, micro markets are appealing to businesses who won’t have to maintain or staff the market themselves. 

What are the benefits of a micro market? 

Think micro markets are just vending machines? Think again.  

More merchandising options 

One of the biggest drawbacks to vending machines is limited supply — they can only hold so many items, and not every vending machine can stock cold or frozen food. Additionally, fresh food is typically a no-go because of the limited shelf life.  

In contrast, micro markets can stock a variety product inventory, and more of it. They can also sell specialty items that a traditional vending machine can’t, such as gourmet coffee, baked goods, energy bars, and frozen treats.  

Fewer startup costs 

In general, micro markets have good earning potential and present possible cost savings. For operators, micro markets could save up to $14,000 in upfront investments compared to vending machines. At the same time, a micro market delivers $1,000 more in sales per month on average than traditional vending. 

Custom configurations 

Micro markets can adapt to the needs of any location. From a single shelf of snacks to a full market with custom cabinetry, coolers, and freezers, micro markets are fully customizable for each location. 

Are micro markets just for fresh food? 

For many businesses, micro markets are a convenient way to provide a variety of fresh and healthy food options, giving employees, customers, and guests a way to access a full meal without having to go elsewhere.  

But micro markets aren’t limited in what they can stock — plenty of operators supplement their inventory with convenience items like small electronics and toiletries. Using integrated inventory software helps operators identify what’s popular at each of their locations and make adjustments to better suit their customer demographics to increase sales and cut back on food waste. 

How are micro markets used? 

While initially conceived for closed environments like break rooms to give office employees a place to grab and eat lunch that eliminated the need to leave the building, micro markets can be found in many different types of businesses. They often work best in locations with moderate to heavy traffic, including public-facing areas. From shopping malls to hotels, warehouses to apartment complexes, high-traffic locations bring more market customers to aid in product turnover — which leads to a more significant return on investment. Public-facing micro markets can also operate successfully thanks to anti-theft solutions and their physical closeness to customers. 

Getting started with micro markets 

Because there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to micro markets, the first step is to get the dimensions of the potential location. A lot goes into a micro market’s design and inventory, including: 

  • Location and demographic analysis 
  • Networking and electrical requirements 
  • Security of the space 
  • Wellness goals of the organization 
  • Requested food and drinks 

For operators, micro markets can be more hands-on than traditional vending. Are there customers who are gluten-free? What about offering vegetarian or vegan-friendly options? The more you know about your target market, the more specific products and services you can provide. 

Micro markets or vending machines? 

For many industries, vending machines have been the standard for providing convenient access to snacks and drinks. Micro markets can be an alternative, but they don’t necessarily have to replace vending machines in every location.  

For example, vending machines can be tucked away into low-traffic areas, providing products with a longer shelf life. Micro markets are great in closed environments where you can understand regular traffic patterns and better protect against theft and vandalism. In many cases, vending machines and micro markets can together to provide even more choice to potential customers. 

What is important to consider if you’re weighing options as an operator is that micro markets are a cost-effective way to expand your business. So just consider where they might make sense in your current locations — the possibilities may surprise


Sonya Lehner

Senior Content Marketing Manager

Sonya has over a decade in digital marketing experience working with a variety of B2C and B2B brands. From payments and retail to luxury watches and commercial flooring, she's an expert in producing engaging, audience-focused content.

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