A French startup entrepreneur is installing vending machines that accept only one-, two- and five-eurocent coins. This should help to end the current waste of these unused little ‘red cents’, which puts people out of pocket and adds up to a dead loss for the state.

Centimeo Vending Machines Encourage People to Spend their Red Cents

Today a one-eurocent coin costs four cents to mint!  Moreover, the one-, two- and five-eurocent coins have a very low circulation rate, so the Central Bank – and hence the state and the taxpayer – make a loss every year on their manufacture. Perhaps a total of a billion and a half euros have been wasted across the eurozone since the single currency came into being because these ‘red cents’ are hardly ever spent. Now Benjamin Dupays, a young French entrepreneur and graduate of the prestigious Paris social sciences college Sciences Po, has come up with the idea of restoring some sense and value to this neglected legal tender. The startup company he founded, Centimeo, is one of the finalists for the forthcoming Grand Prize for Innovation ceremony in the ‘Services to the General Public’ category, one of the categories sponsored by L’Atelier parent BNP Paribas. Centimeo installs vending machines which enable passers-by to empty their pockets of their red cents – which certainly cannot be a bad thing for the economy.

Varied and expanding locations

“We’re talking about mass market products which everyone tends to buy,” explains Benjamin Dupays. Among the products on offer in the machines are chewing-gum and single shots of antibacterial gel, just right for purchasing with low-value coins. Centimeo has already forged a partnership with student support services organisation CROUS to install its vending machines in university buildings and student restaurants in Paris. The Paris suburbs of Créteil and Versailles are also likely to see the startup’s products soon, as are establishments such as the ESSEC business school, Sciences Po and Telecom Paris. Shopping malls – especially those managed by property development and investment company Hammerson – will also be playing host to the vending machines. Of course public transport venues are an ideal outlet, and Centimeo is hoping to sell its products at train and bus stations in towns such as Lille and Lyon, and also outside France as well. In fact one- and two-eurocent coins have already been withdrawn from circulation in Finland and prices in the Netherlands are today routinely rounded up to the next five cents, but this trend does not seem to worry Benjamin Dupays. The Centimeo founder points out that “in most eurozone countries, especially in eastern Europe, red cents are still in use.”  

Partnership with ‘Yellow Coins’ charity, job-creation potential?

Moreover, an agreement has been signed with the Paris public hospital system  and the Hospitals in Paris-Hospitals in France Foundation to enable Centimeo to set up the red cents vending machine service in hospitals. The Foundation runs the annual Yellow Coins initiative to raise funds for sick children by collecting 10, 20 and 50-eurocent coins. Although they may appear to be in competition, the two projects have forged a partnership. In fact, 80% of the Yellow Coins initiative’s revenues come from direct donations rather than from the traditional collection box system, which is a very expensive exercise to run. Moreover, Centimeo has ambitions to create employment, in line with its slogan: ‘A new job every fifty machines’. Starting from the idea of making use of an unexploited resource, Benjamin Dupays hopes to create jobs for re-stocking assistants. This sort of unskilled job might be an ideal solution for people looking to get into – or slot back into – the working world. This at any rate is what the coin collector with the golden idea is hoping will happen.

By Pierre-Marie Mateo