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Why Stonyfield Farm went virtual with their healthy vend


April 29, 2008
By Stacy Bradshaw


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Back in October 2004, Stonyfield Farm, the New Hampshire-based producer
of all natural and organic yogurt, had an ingenious idea. They dolled
up some Crane Refreshment Centre-1 machines with their kid-friendly
graphics, stocked them full of Stonyridge (and many other) healthy
vending products, and handed them out to Chicago public schools.

8bBack in October 2004, Stonyfield Farm, the New Hampshire-based producer of all natural and organic yogurt, had an ingenious idea. They dolled up some Crane Refreshment Centre-1 machines with their kid-friendly graphics, stocked them full of Stonyridge (and many other) healthy vending products, and handed them out to Chicago public schools.

The new project, which helped Stonyfield leverage their role in the efforts to reduce childhood obesity in America, generated an overwhelming response.

The Stonyfield Farm healthy vending machine, filled with an assortment of organic and natural snacks from companies ranging from Organic Valley to Stacy’s to Newman’s Own Organics – as well as Stonyfield’s own organic yogurt smoothies – provided Chicago-area students with healthier alternatives to traditional school snacks.

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“We’ve been overjoyed by the demand for our healthy vending machine program,” the company says on their website.

But, they’ve also been overwhelmed.

Carmelle Druchniak, senior communications manager, told Canadian Vending that Stonyridge might have underestimated just how complicated – and demanding – the vending industry can be.

“It became a full time job,” she said.

Between restocking, service calls, and all the other value-added programs they were offering, including sampling events and taste tests, Stonyfield Farm found itself playing the role of a full-time vending operator. And they didn’t like it.

“We can’t accommodate all the requests for free machines, but we have come up with another way to help,” the company noted on the recently revamped website.

The solution? A virtual healthy vending program that let’s school administrators take matters into their own hands.

“It’s a virtual makeover,” explained Druchniak. One that allows schools to give their vending program a makeover of it’s own. It’s called the Do-It-Yourself Vending Machine Makeover, and it’s part of their new Menu for Change initiative. It comes complete (on-line at www.stonyridge.com) with machine requirements and a full product list.

Stonyfield suggests schools check with their current vending provider or seek out one that will accommodate the new line-up. They also recommend the schools conduct a student-to-student marketing campaign, and an official launch of the new machine, inviting the school board, community members and media.

8But before the big unveiling, schools have to decide what will fill the nifty new machine. Stonyridge’s product list includes only those products that fit their state’s requirements for healthy school products, taking the following guidelines into consideration: total calories from fat (35 per cent), total calories from saturated fat (10 per cent) and total sugar by weight (35 per cent). If administrators or operators are unsure if a product makes the cut, Stonyfield also offers an on-line snack calculator.

The premise is that foodservice companies need to start playing a role in the solution to obesity – whether they’re producing yogurt smoothies or filling a vending machine.

“Let’s face it, when it comes to preventing childhood obesity, food businesses like mine can either be part of the problem or part of the solution. Twenty years in the yogurt business has taught me that if students are offered great tasting alternatives, they will make the right decision,” explained Gary Hirshberg, CEO, Stonyfield Farm.

The online program also offers a plan-o-gram to ensure the students are always provided a full variety of products that taste good and are good for them.

“Through our health and consumer education programs, we try to give students information about the effects of unhealthy snacks, and how they can start now to develop healthy habits that will last into their adulthood. This vending machine puts those lessons into practice, ” said Dr. William Ristow, Caruso Middle School principal. o