DOWNTOWN — If you like your fresh salads, fruits and protein-packed snack mixes without the burden of human interaction, add the new Farmer's Fridge vending kiosk in the Shops at North Bridge to your lunch rotation.
The Magnificent Mile mall's food court at 520 N. Michigan Ave. now houses the Chicago-based company's second fresh food dispenser in the city, opening last week just one month after its flagship kiosk in the Garvey Food Court at 201 N. Clark St.
Less than a week after the company installed its biggest kiosk yet in the mall, diners already are incorporating it into their lunch routines.
Amy Dowker, who works nearby in the AMA building, was at the kiosk Friday to return an empty jar from her high-protein salad, "the Bodybuilder," a quinoa-based jumble layered with spinach, chickpeas, figs, broccoli and pumpkin seeds with a lemon tahini dressing.
"I think it's a great idea," she said.
Dowker said she found the price — $8 for a salad — "totally reasonable," and said the minor hassle of storing and returning the reusable containers was worth it.
"It's great to know these will be recycled," she said.
For some customers, the novelty of the automated fresh-food vending machine is as much of a draw as the convenience.
Shelby McAndrew, 26, was visiting the mall from Des Moines with her mom, Melody, to shop for wedding dresses.
"I read about it being here, just today, so we decided to check it out," Melody McAndrew said. "Hopefully the word gets out about this because it's a great idea."
Shelby McAndrew said the Farmer's Fridge menu items look a lot like what she normally snacks on, but she said the convenience of the packaging is a huge draw.
"The proteins are $2," she said. "Considering that you can get a bag of chips for $3, and you can get actual food here — I think I'd definitely use it all the time."
The snack-sized "bites" are especially cost-effective, McAndrew guessed, "since usually for ingredients like that, I have to buy them in bulk. Obviously, that costs more" and is more time-consuming, she said.
The company delivers the hand-packed plastic jars to the kiosks daily around 10 a.m. with a rotating menu.
All Farmer's Fridge ingredients are organic and come "from local farms when possible," according to a news release.
The company has another kiosk outside of the city at the Lake Forest tollway oasis. A spokeswoman said new locations are in the works, but that the company hopes to expand slowly.
In a recent post on the Farmer's Fridge Instagram account, users requested more sites, including East Grand Avenue in Streeterville and Merchandise Mart.