We hunted down the controversial 'Bodega' vending machine and found one in the wild -- here's what it's like

Twitter users across the country howled in rage on Wednesday after getting wind of Bodega, the startup whose internet connected pantry boxes want to replace your local corner store.

Many observers criticised the choice of the Bodega name — which traditionally refers to Mum and Pop convenience stores in large American cities — and the notion that two former Google employees could potentially put the beloved local shops out of business.

In the Fast Company profile that ignited the storm, cofounder Paul McDonald laid out his vision for the automated kiosks: “Eventually, centralised shopping locations won’t be necessary, because there will be 100,000 Bodegas spread out, with one always 100 feet away from you.”

Others were quick to label the Bodega boxes as the latest internet folly (See: Juicero), dismissing the kiosks as nothing more than a glorified vending machine for the millennial tech set.

With so much hubbub we decided we needed to find a Bodega in the wild and see what it was like to actually use one ourselves. It turns out, finding a Bodega was not as simple as we thought, but we eventually tracked one down. Here’s what we found:

Bodega listed 30 locations in the San Francisco Bay Area on its website, a few of which are in easy walking distance of the Business Insider office in San Francisco's financial district.


I started at the infamous Millennium Tower, a modern-day San Francisco landmark due to the unfortunate fact that it has sunk 17 inches into the ground and tilted 14 inches to the side.

Justin Sullivan/Getty

The sinking 58-story tower is a private residence, and I couldn't make it past the receptionist, who made it clear there were no Bodegas in the building, despite what the Bodega company website said.

Next, I walked to JLL Real Estate. The commercial real estate firm's office was on an upper floor of the building and I couldn't make it past the lobby without an appointment. After calling JLL I learned that: 1, they didn't have time for me to come up, and 2, they had no Bodega in the office.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider
The office building where JLL Real Estate's office is.

Undeterred, I pressed on with the mission.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider
The outside of Managed by Q.

After hearing from Bodega cofounder Paul McDonald that the majority of the boxes aren't shipping until next week, I trekked over to Managed by Q, a local startup that is one of three locations in San Francisco that already has a Bodega box on the premises. The Managed by Q staff was kind enough to let me in, and at the back of the office I finally stood face to face with my prize.

Behold, the wild Bodega in its natural habitat: the office 'break room'!

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

Look closely and you'll notice this box is well furnished with all the staples of a quality office break room. The selection includes Red Bull, Kind Bars, and pretzels paired with handy items like Advil and Emergen-C packs.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

The employees at this particular office were very enthused about their Bodega machine and said it gets used all the time. They told me they really appreciated having it since there were practically no other options for food or retail near their office. A cursory stroll around the neighbourhood confirmed their claims of deprivation.

There is no credit card swiper or coin slot on the Bodega. Instead, you use the Bodega smartphone app and type in the number of the Bodega store box at your location.

The Bodega app.

Sadly, because the Bodega that I finally found was in a private company's location, I was unable to actually purchase any of the goodies within. In theory, the Bodega app should work with any box you find. But the startup I visited told me I needed to be signed in with their company to use it. Maybe they just wanted to get rid of me.

The way it works is pretty simple.


Once you type the box number in the app, the doors to the Bodega store unlock and it's Open Sesame. As you can see from this image from a promotional video the company made, you just grab whatever you want and go on your way. Special cameras in the kiosk, that the company boasts use 'computer vision and machine learning,' automatically figure out what you took and charge you accordingly.

After checking out the prices for items in the box, we went to a local CVS to do some price comparisons.

Caroline Cakebread/Business Insider

We found that most of the items in the Bodega were cheaper or the same as the ones at CVS. A Kind Bar went for $US2.00 in the machine versus $US2.49 at CVS, and pack of Jalapeno Kettle chips was priced at $US1.29 in the Bodega and $US1.49 at CVS.

So is the Bodega going to change the way you shop?

Bodega cofounders, Paul McDonald and Ashwath Rajan

The boxes are well-designed and make for a handy office amenity -- a nicer version of the vending machine, stocked with a better selection.

Nice as they are, the bodega boxes don't look like they will be putting traditional corner stores out of business anytime soon. The selection of sundries is limited to non-perishable items. And the alcohol and tobacco products that comprise the bulk of many a corner store's business were nowhere to be found.

The real question now is whether the company can convince businesses and consumers to try out the kiosks, or whether the backlash over the name has already done too much damage.

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