Canadian Vending

Products Snacks
Bridging The Gap

Healthy program partners nutritionists with vending


April 29, 2008
By Stacy Bradshaw


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It took no small amount of fortitude for Glen Jackson of Ryan Vending,
to first mutter the words “registered dietician” and “vending operator”
in the same sentence.

Healthy program partners nutritionists with vending

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Areli Hermanson, registered dietician and advocate of Ryan Vendings healthy vending initiative, addressed operators during the 2006 Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association Expo in Niagara Falls.

It took no small amount of fortitude for Glen Jackson of Ryan Vending, to first mutter the words “registered dietician” and “vending operator” in the same sentence.

When he first presented his healthy vending program to B.C. educators, Jackson, general manager of the Victoria-based vending company, generated some foreseeable skepticism. Now, Ryan Vending is bridging the gap between imposed nutrition legislation in schools, and vending as a flexible retail channel.

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Joined by registered dietician, Areli Hermanson, Jackson brought the healthy vending initiative to Canadian operators at the 2006 CAMA Expo in Niagara Falls.

CAMA members were given the opportunity to become certified healthy vending operators, a status they can take to their current and prospective clients. The hope is that CAMA, Ryan Vending, and the newest members of the “Healthy Food and Beverage in Canadian Schools” program will work together to raise the profile of automatic merchandising, and to convince Canadian legislators that vending can be part of the solution.

Jackson was careful to point out during the two-hour educational seminar that the proposed solution does not necessarily call for complete removal of traditional vending items. For Ryan Vending, B.C. legislation has allowed them to present healthy products at “attractive” discount pricing while still selling products “not fit for daily consumption” at premium pricing. By subsidizing the healthy products, they have created a value for the consumer and preserved a wide variety of products.

“It’s a very simple program,” said Jackson. And the schools were motivated to make this change with him. Generally, Ryan Vending is returning similar commissions to the schools as it was before the premium/discount pricing structure. He added modestly that Ryan Vending has developed a fair bit of business by going to this model.

Of course operators present weren’t hesitant to point out that nutritional guidelines in B.C. seem to be fairly lenient compared to those in other provinces. A gentleman from New Brunswick perhaps said it best: “I guess [Ryan Vending] got it right. You’re being proactive and making suggestions. In New Brunswick, I guess we weren’t proactive and they just set the guidelines for us.”

Ill-advised to comment on the guidelines in other provinces, both Jackson and Hermanson explained that the most important part of the first phase of their program is for each operator to join forces with a registered dietician in their community. His ongoing dialogue and relationship with Hermanson may have been Jackson’s saving grace.

“You’d be surprised how willing some of them will be to help,” said Jackson, of his local dieticians.
Hermanson has become a strong advocate of Ryan Vending’s healthy vending program, but she spoke with little indifference on the state of the obesity issue in Canada. Her statistics painted a sobering picture of the current reality: in the past 20 years, the number of overweight children in Canada has almost doubled from 15 per cent to 20 per cent of boys and from 15 per cent to 24 per cent of girls. In terms of obesity, the numbers have almost tripled. She said 53 per cent of children fail to meet the minimum recommended servings for milk products, and there’s been a decrease in the intake of fruits and veggies. She alluded to the fact that inadequate levels of physical activity remain a significant contributing factor.

“These are alarming stats,” said Hermanson. Rebound hypoglycemia, a reference to the sugar rushes and the inevitable crashes brought on by excess sugar intake, can inhibit learning. Health and education are linked, she advised. And healthy food and beverages in schools via the vending channel can be offered as a solution.

The biggest challenge for Ryan Vending will be maintaining an inventory of healthy products as legislation becomes more stringent in B.C., said Jackson.

“We have to depend on our supplier network to make changes with us. And we have to go out and seek out new suppliers.”

When Jackson and Hermanson set out to determine which products will be categorized as “healthy choice” items and which will be deemed “not fit for daily consumption,” they strictly adhered to the province’s guidelines. Provincial guidelines could say something like this, “only 25 per cent or less of the calories in a given product can come from fat.” Hermanson went on to train operators in attendance on how to make those calculations.

“This is to arm you with a set of tools you can use when presenting your products.”

One of the leading chocolate bars actually fits the “choose least” category in B.C., and can be offered as a premium-priced item, she said. Some granola bars, on the other hand, have too much sugar to make the cut. There’s a perception of these items as being healthy when in reality they’re no better for you than a chocolate bar. For now, the change in the vending lineup doesn’t have to be that severe, explained Jackson. “For now, perception is enough.”

If laws become more stringent and his clients request more healthy products, Jackson and Ryan Vending will continue to change.

“It’s just a bridge … we’ve moved into one realm, but maintained another.”

The major long-term value for the operator of presenting a healthy choice with a subsidized pricing program to their client is account preservation. It’s a difficult benefit to quantify, admitted Jackson, but common sense tells him that preserving an account is worth a tremendous amount more than establishing a new client.

Jackson encouraged operators to develop their own signage to promote their healthy approved products. Branding and logo placement can be commercial, but always representing the healthiest products possible. Identifying healthy products can be done with direct signage, stickers or even video display. He said the marketing image could be linked to leaders in the community – athletes, well-liked school administrators, or even the healthy vending operator eating healthy foods.

As small business owners, vending operators can change faster than the big players, he said. “That’s our advantage.”

Completing the first phase of the CAMA education certificate program will give operators a competitive advantage that Jackson hopes will also help to alter the perception, and further increase the profile of automatic merchandising in Canada.

“We can sell any product we want, so vending will continue … this is a time of change,” he said. “For
CAMA … and for everyone.” o