US & Canada

Wine vending machines test breath before sales

A shopper examines one of the wine vending machines at a Pennsylvania supermarket - 25 June 2010
More convenient than the government liquor stores, perhaps, but you still have to bring ID

Shoppers in the US state of Pennsylvania have been given the chance to buy their favourite tipple from a wine vending machine.

The state has some of the strictest alcohol laws in the country and until now wine has only been sold at state-owned shops.

The machines check the buyer's identification for proof of age and a built-in breathalyser tests sobriety.

A few machines are being tested at supermarkets before more are placed.

The vending machines hold 700 temperature-controlled bottles - ranging in price from $7-23 (£4-14).

The head of Simple Brands, the company that makes the vending machines, says the appeal of convenience is obvious.

"You can now buy iPods and hi-tech gadgets in vending machines at airports," said Simple Brands CEO James Lesser.

"You can now get your tickets at self-service checkouts. And self-service has just really become more popular."

'Leveraged technology'

But in a state where alcohol sales are tightly controlled, customers have to jump through several hoops.

First they must swipe both a proof of age and their payment card.

Then there's the breathalyser. A quick puff to show they're sober and the appropriate door will open. CCTV cameras are monitored by state officials as a final safeguard.

"We don't serve minors, we don't serve intoxicated individuals," said Patrick Stapleton, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Boards.

"We've used technology, we've leveraged technology to make sure that doesn't happen."

Until now Pennsylvania's drinkers have only been able to buy wine in state-run liquor stores.

The vending machines mean they can now pick up a bottle at the supermarket for the first time.

There is no sommelier on hand to talk tannins and bouquets. But in a country where convenience has always been a best seller, the machines' makers hope to open another 100 later this year.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites