Canadian Vending

Features Healthy Vending Trends
From the Editor: Fall 2014

A nudge toward health

September 16, 2014
By Colleen Cross


Customers are wising up about food choices.

Customers are wising up about food choices.

People are interested in eating the right things but, in many cases, confused and overwhelmed by headlines about studies on sugar, sweeteners, sodium, fibre, protein and probiotics. In reaction to these same health stories, those in the foodservice industries are keenly interested in providing and marketing more healthful products.

Our feature story, “The carrot or the stick?” by Michelle Brisebois nimbly lays out a wealth of evidence that suggests demand for healthier products is driven not only by government regulation but also by consumer desire.


A peer-reviewed study by the U.S. Center for Disease Control provides hard-to-ignore evidence these health-conscious offerings are not just what people need but also what they want.

As part of the study, vending machines filled with healthier offerings were placed throughout the Chicago Park District. The products met strict criteria; for instance, they contained no more than 42 grams of added sweetener per 20 ounces, derived no more than 35 per cent of kilocalories from fat and contained no more than 400 milligrams of sodium per serving. Items were priced uniformly at $1 to create an even playing field, so to speak, and nutritional information was hidden from view.

Researchers reported a positive reaction to the machines from parks staff and patrons of all ages. Eighty-eight per cent of those surveyed reported liking the snack vending items they tried. Ninety-eight per cent of patrons indicated they would purchase the snacks again. The main reason participants gave for disliking the more healthful snacks was that the items were not healthy enough.

Over 15 months, average monthly per-machine sales jumped from $84 to $371.

Speaking of the bottom line, I am reminded of a concept called “nudge marketing.” According to ad guru Terry O’Reilly of Under the Influence radio show fame, schools, businesses and governments successfully use small nudges to gently steer people toward making more positive decisions in their lives.

Such nudges include one of my favourite bits of evil marketing genius: guiding shoppers toward the fresh produce aisles by placing mirrors on shopping carts at a level designed to showcase their double chins.

This initiative, introduced by an El Paso supermarket, saw a dramatic increase in the purchase of fruits and vegetables, as did other initiatives such as allotting half of shopping carts to “fresh produce” and guiding shoppers using green floor arrows. Interestingly, these strategies resulted in pure profit – profit that did not eat into their existing revenue. In other words, people didn’t cut back on what they bought but added more fruit and vegetables to their carts.

This distinction points to what you might call the middle ground of enrichment: giving customers what they want while offering more of what they need. As they become educated, customers become ingredient-hungry. For example, according to an NPD survey, about one in five consumers said they have paid more for protein-enriched items. The study suggests protein bars are among the items most likely to command a premium. Says NPD analyst Darren Seifer: “Inform consumers about what a great source of protein your product is, and why it matters to their health.”

The pendulum is swinging (slowly) from indulgence toward sensible eating. As a vending operator, you may be feeling a bit beat up about offering customers the standby chocolate bars and chips, and pressured to replace indulgent snacks with healthier items. If so, always remember that the market will decide. You can do your part to promote healthy eating and seize the opportunity for greater profits if you gently nudge those peckish customers toward what they need.