Hudson Valley butcher Applestone Meat Co. brings unique concept to Westchester
Using vending machines to dispense freshly prepared and vacuum-sealed packages of various cuts of meat along with meat products allows Applestone to eliminate costs and time associated with offering one-on-one in-person service to customers.
The machines are stocked daily, just as a butcher case would be in a store. Each item has a use-by date or date by which it should be frozen for longer storage.
Applestone, whose Applestone Meat Co. in Stone Ridge can be traced back to when he and his wife, Jessica, opened a butcher shop 14 years ago, has been specializing in sustainably sourced meats from area farmers for more than a decade. These include hormone-free and antibiotic-free beef, pork, lamb and chicken.
Applestone’s newest shop with meat vending machines is at 735 White Plains Road in Eastchester and represents a geographic expansion from the company’s headquarters in Ulster County and second location in Hudson, Columbia County.
“My favorite relative lives up the road from our Eastchester location, so I’ve been coming to the area for almost 30 years. I really like the area and I just felt it was a good fit,” Applestone told the Business Journal.
He said he is now 51 and has fond memories of being taken to the automat in New York by his mother and grandfather.
“It was such a magical place. The idea never escaped me. When I opened up Applestone I needed to come up with a way of reaching retail customers and still being able to maintain a butcher operation and keep prices low. The idea of doing something like the automat was a no-brainer for me. Ten years ago, I went to the original maker of those machines and had great conversations with them,” Applestone said.
He said that unfortunately the automat vending systems wouldn’t do what he needed, so he set about the task of coming up with other machines that would. Made by the manufacturer Crane, the carousel-type machines offer the flexibility of allowing a different price for each item dispensed.
“Vending has been around for a long time. It really depends on what you’re selling out of an automated system that determines whether it’s groundbreaking or not,” Applestone said. “We’re butchers; we just don’t have a counter. We have a portion-controlled, weight-controlled item and we just put it in a self-serving mechanism.”
Applestone said that cleanliness, minimal handling and speed in packaging are important features. He has two processing plants, one for raw products such as steaks and chops and one for processed items such as hot dogs, pork rolls and brown-and-serve meatballs.
“I’m a specialty shop. All I do is meats so I make sure that everything is handled correctly, everything is very fresh and if I didn’t have the best things possible when it’s bought out of a machine, no one is coming back, no one is giving a machine a second shot,” Applestone said.
He said that the best advertising for his products has been word-of-mouth and that customers come to his Hudson Valley locations from Connecticut.
“We’re community-based. The reason I’m not opening up 100 stores is because it takes a lot of time to build trust in a community to understand what we’re doing. We really don’t sell meat; we sell trust,” Applestone said, adding that there’s a strong element of convenience to being able to buy vacuum-sealed fresh meat at any time.
Applestone volunteered that using the machines isn’t difficult but requires an ability to follow procedures. He has posted an instructional video on YouTube in addition to having point-of-purchase directions.
“People do go shopping at our machines at 3 a.m. People do it all the time. We don’t live in a nine-to-five society anymore. The idea that dinner is on the table at six is a joke,” Applestone said. “Meat has always been a foraging action. People like going out, finding it, bringing it home and cooking it. It’s primal. It’s different than buying a bunch of grapes. The machines enable people to maintain ultra-convenient moments and still get a really high-quality product, most likely higher quality than they were going to get elsewhere.”
Applestone said that he has no ownership of the concept of vending machines dispensing specialty items, adding that the concept could be expanded to encompass the sale of other fresh items on an around-the-clock basis.
“This is owned by the world. When I was a kid, my pop was saying, ‘Why would anyone want to go to an ATM? Why would anyone want to get money from a computer?’ Now ATMs are everywhere. The reason is because ATMs got owned by society; it wasn’t just one company,” Applestone said. “I picked the hardest thing possible to sell out of a machine. I don’t think this model is going anywhere but up.”