More than 2 million machines vend beverages in the United States, but anyone with three quarters and a taste for milk would likely die of dehydration while looking for their preferred beverage.

Tetra Pak partnered with Fresno, Calif.-based Vendo Co. to develop a vending machine that can dispense aseptic paperboard containers and plastic bottles as well as aluminum cans. The flexibility to ship aseptic products at ambient temperature is expected to jump-start milk sales through vending machines. Source: Tetra Pak Inc.

That may begin to change, and sooner rather than later if a development project between Vendo Co. and Tetra Pak Inc. bears fruit. The firms recently introduced Vari-Pak, a machine adapted to hold most beverage containers up to 7 inches tall, including aseptic bottles and paperboard composites. The machines, which have a clear panel to provide a view of the products inside, have been in field tests since September, according to Blair Vance, Tetra Pak's director of vending.

"Shelf stable milk has done extremely well around the world, except in North America," says Vance. With soymilk sales exploding and school officials booting soft drinks out of many of their buildings, the market is ripe for low-acid fluids, he believes. But most vending machine suppliers are not equipped to distribute refrigerated products, and they worry about the public-health consequences if one of their machines loses power and dispenses spoiled milk. Aseptic milk addresses those issues, and Vance is betting Vari-Pak units will help push milk sales well over the billion-units-per-year level.