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Published on : January 15, 2014

Don’t Hate the Vending Machine!

Don’t Hate the Vending Machine!

Often, when a company decides to begin a wellness program, the food and snack offerings in their facilities come into view.Company cafeterias, micro-markets, snack and beverage services, and yes…. the vending machines, oh yes the vending machines.

The vending industry has been present in the United States since the late 1880’s.The first patents recorded were for Thomas Adams gum, and actually dispensed Tutti-Fruity gum. (http://prestigevendingaz.com/2013/11/10-facts-about-the-history-of-vending-machines/)

Fast forward to current, and in the vending industry of the United States and you will find a staggering 4.6 million vending machines (http://www.statisticbrain.com/vending-machine-industry-statistics/).Yet, much about the vending industry hasn’t changed since the 1950’s.Most vending machines still have the usual array of chips, cookies, candy, soda, and gum.At 3:00pm, when the energy is waning and the hunger is calling, the vending machine might look like an excellent option to your employees, managers, and even yourself!

The vending industry, large as it may be, is a low margin industry.A five cent spike in the wholesale cost of a bestselling candy-bar can have a dramatic effect on a vending company.Making sure that the machine is well-stocked with popular and quick selling items is the key to success for a vending operator.And a vending operator may be quick to tell you that healthy snacks and beverages don’t sell.Why would they want to replace the super-hot cheesy curls with baked sweet potato chips if sales will decline, and his earnings will be affected?It’s a good question and a dialogue that typically needs to be handled carefully.The goal, as in most business negotiations, is the win-win… give a little, take a little.

We’ve established that vending operators want to make money. They earn a living by having high profile locations, with top of the line machines, and by enticing people to buy the tasty items contained within. They carefully assess the wholesale cost of goods, rebates that may be offered on specific items, and the retail pricing that the local competitors are offering. They also need to outfit the vending machines with newer technology, allowing them competitive advantages of knowing what is selling in the machine, what isn’t, what needs to be refilled, and what needs to be replaced.Newer technologies also allow the machine to accept cashless or mobile payments, and even can offer a touchscreen experience to show the full nutrition panel of the snacks and beverages in the machine before purchasing.These are all competitive advantages to getting the best accounts and increasingly cost of doing business.

You, as the Wellness Program Lead have other ideas.You want a machine that is filled to the brim with fresh fruits, water, whole grain snacks, organic and gluten free selections, among other items to meet your program needs. Face it, you and the vending operator are not seeing eye-to-eye.

So – how do you create the win-win?There are many ideas, and approaches.It must, however, begin with a discussion with the vending operator.I suggest letting them know that you are aligning the vending machines with your current wellness initiatives and that it will take a partnership between you and the vending operator to make this happen.Whereas we can hope that you won’t need to change vending companies, there are lots of healthy focused vending companies who will be happy to help you.I would suggest asking the operator to begin with 1/3 of your vended items falling into healthy guidelines.There are lots of lists available of healthy snacks.Your own vending operator should be able to provide a list of what he has access to.You may even want to involve your employee population in helping to select what items they would like to try.How about hostinga tasting event with your vending operator on-site to see the results?

If your vending operator has newer technology – you can request weekly or monthly reporting of what is being purchased from the machine.The vending operator does not have to provide this, but they will want to keep your account and keep you happy.These reports can be done completely anonymouslyand can show you the trends.

As a result of the Affordable Care Act, it will be required for vending operators (with 20 or more machines) to display the calories of snacks and drinks in their machines (pending legislation).These calorie listings will have to be visible prior to purchase.As mentioned earlier, nutrition label visibility may be a part of the technology offering on the machine.You can request this.

It is also possible, through new technologies, to display the health “values” of the items in the machine with a red-yellow-green system.Utilizing one of the criteria sets – such as the USDA smart snacks program (http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/governance/legislation/allfoods.htm) – items can be showcased as good, moderate or less desirable choices.

To get quick results and see immediate changes in buying patterns, companies can subsidize a percentage of the cost of the purchase of healthy items.A 50% employee subsidy is a good place to start.When the baked chips cost half of the regular chips, people will often select the healthy option.Suddenly, those flaming hot cheesy curls don’t sound quite as enticing as the sweet potato chips.

So, what does this all mean?It means that it is time to let your vending machines support your wellness program. It’s time topartner with your vending operator to meet your wellness goals, to educate your people on what is in the machine, and to incentivize them to make the smart choices.