A day in the life of (almost) every vending machine in the world

Freckle-tanned, portly and quick to laugh, Broderick has a playful exterior that conceals the fiery heart of a vending fundamentalist. He is a man so invested in the roboticised transmission of snacks that, come Halloween, Johnny Brod has been known to park a machine full of sweets in his driveway, letting any costumed local kids issue their demand for treats via prodded forefinger. With his brother Peter and his father, John Sr, he runs the vending empire Broderick’s Ltd, its 2,800 machines occupying some of the most sought-after corridors and crannies of the UK. The Broderick family sugar and sustain office workers, factory workers, students, gym goers, shoppers and schoolchildren. They pep up breaktimes in a nuclear power station. If you’ve ever wolfed a postpartum Snickers in the maternity ward at Chesterfield or Leeds General, or turned thirsty while waiting to fly out of Stansted or Birmingham airports, then you’ve almost certainly shopped, at one mechanical remove, with Johnny Brod. He thanks you.

The coffee we drank that morning had trickled into cardboard cups from one of his own hot-beverage makers. Business had been hurt badly by Covid, he said. There had been one wretched day in the spring of 2020 when he awoke to find himself not the owner of the second-largest fleet of vending machines in the UK, but instead, of “timebombs. All these machines of ours in places we couldn’t access. All full of perishable food.” After enduring months of closed workplaces, abandoned airports and dead campuses, the Brodericks had lost millions on foregone Twirls and Mini Cheddars. Even so, Johnny Brod was bullish, insisting that the pandemic presented him with opportunities, too.