Jeff Whitacre, president and CEO of Food Express headquartered in Greensboro, NC, knows that to be a "pro" in the industry, you must be able to identify challenges and proactively target them with innovation and forward-thinking actions.

"The immediate challenges facing the vending, coffee service, dining, and micro market industry center around retooling existing assets and engaging the consumer," said Whitacre. In order to address these challenges, Whitacre and his employees at Food Express have been installing micro markets, retrofitting existing vending machines, and deploying new vending machines to allow for wireless telemetry services, cashless and contactless payment options as well as offering healthy product choices.

Whitacre, however, isn′t solely concerned with the success of his business. Rather, he′s interested in seeing the entire industry thrive, and this interest helped him create USConnect in 2013, a coalition of independent vend operations that is focused on industry technological advances, consumer product offerings, and strategic supplier relationships. In 2014, Whitacre expanded USConnect services and helped the organization meet several milestones along the way.

In just a year and a half, the coalition gained 42 affiliate members, who now serve 100 U.S. metropolitan areas. More than 100,000 vending machines and 50,000 wirelessly equipped vending machines, along with 1,000 micro markets are connected through the USConnect network, which also produced revenues of more than $500 million. USConnect has partnered with other industry companies to offer its members cashless and loyalty options, and in 2014, it held several technology seminars aimed at educating members with current and future operational challenges and solutions.

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