The vending machine filled with healthy food at the Marriott Chicago O'Hare. Photo courtesy of Marriott Hotels.

The vending machine filled with healthy food at the Marriott Chicago O’Hare. Photo courtesy of Marriott Hotels.

At the Chicago Marriott O’Hare, the Marriott chain yesterday unveiled a healthy vending machine stocked with cleverly packaged salads, sandwiches and snacks made each day using local ingredients, the company said in a press release. The items are priced at normal prices.

It’s a working prototype inspired by an idea that a 21-year-old college student had submitted to Marriott as part of its future-of-travel campaign, Travel Brilliantly. In fact, it’s the first Travel Brilliantly innovative idea to actually make it into a hotel.

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To make it happen, Marriott worked with a Chicago start-up called Farmer’s Fridge, which was already designing vending machines that contain healthy, packaged food. It’s not unlike what you’d expect to find in the refrigerated, to-go section at a Whole Foods supermarket. Other hotel chains – such as IHG’s just-launched Even Hotels – are also encouraging healthy foods.

Still, not everyone’s expecting this type of vending machine will make its way into all or most of the Marriott chain’s 500 hotel lobbies.

“These…ideas are great for PR, but not so for bottom line,” said Gregg Marzano, vice president of business development at Gulph Creek Hotels.

A vending machine like this would need high upscale traffic to make it work, he explained. Plus there are enough business travelers who aren’t into kale, he said.

“Sounds great on paper, but at 10pm at night just give me a Diet Coke and a Twix bar,” Marzano told me.

If you do get to the Chicago O’Hare hotel and look for the vending machine, expect to see meals and snacks that range from $3 to $12. Among the offerings:

  • “The detox salad (also known as the Junk Food Eraser) made with organic kale and quinoa with fennel, fruits and beans served in white balsamic vinaigrette.
  • Greek yogurt and berries (also known as Breakfast of the Gods) made with low-fat Greek yogurt, berries and locally sourced honey.
  • Lemon pepper chicken made with chicken breast from chickens that have been humanely raised without antibiotics, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper.”

Readers: Would you grab a healthy to-go meal at an airport hotel if it was both appetizing and easy to obtain (say, from a vending machine)?