Hong Kong-based entrepreneur Maximilian von Poelnitz thinks vending machine distributions could be a way to stand out in the perennially crowded food services industry.
His pitch? Vending machines that can vend a variety of healthy, ready-to-eat boxed meals that are under 550 calories each.
Von Poelnitz is CEO and founder of NOSH, a Hong Kong-based startup that is backed by tech giant Alibaba's entrepreneurs fund. His startup prepares boxed meals from central kitchens in Hong Kong and currently uses popular delivery services such as Foodpanda and Deliveroo to deliver to customers; NOSH also receives a sizable portion of its business from corporate clients.
"Vending machines have become crazy with new technologies," Von Poelnitz told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Friday.
He was referring to the gamut of internet-connected applications, offering personalized options and interactive services, that are becoming available on new-generation vending machines.
For example, connected vending machines are able to send data back to vendors in real time, alerting them of low stocks or technical problems, or can accept cashless payments through cards or smartphones. The concept of vending hot foods is not entirely new, but the food options available are often limited.
"People are just looking for just convenient healthy food on demand (and) vending machines are a great place to do that," Von Poelnitz added.
To be sure, most of the vending machines that exist today are not connected to the internet. A December report by Berg Insight showed there are almost 17 million vending machines around the world, but in 2015, only 1.5 million units were connected. The report projects that number to grow to 3.6 million connected vending machines by 2020.
The meal choices on NOSH's website are updated frequently and in 2016, the start-up sold more than 52,000 meals to over 5,000 customers and over 120 corporate clients.
Last year, NOSH raised $500,000 in seed funding, with Alibaba becoming a minority shareholder in the company. Currently, the start-up is meeting investors for Series A funding and is hoping to raise about $2 million.
"Our goal in 2017 is to just focus on Hong Kong, really cement out position here. Then (we will) launch with other central kitchens in China and Singapore," he said about his international expansion plans for 2018.