Canadian Vending

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Healthy Vending Makes Food Sense

How one operator took the idea straight to the government

September 3, 2008
By Timothy Twydell


Look around, Canada – we are getting fat. No longer can Buffalo be the butt of obesity jokes.

Look around, Canada – we are getting fat. No longer can Buffalo be the butt of obesity jokes.

According to Statistics Canada in 2004: “23.1 per cent of Canadians, aged 18 or older – an estimated 5.5 million adults – had a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more, indicating that they were obese.”
The health-care ramifications of this are stunning.

“Type-2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, some cancers and gallbladder disease. As well, psychosocial problems, functional limitations and disabilities are associated with excess weight.


bananaAs vending professionals, it is imperative that we try to address this problem and shift our focus from preprocessed fatty choices to more healthy fare.  Maggie Cavalier is a pioneer in the fight for healthy vending food.

She is the owner of Food Sense Vending Machine Services, a Durham county-based company that specializes in offering healthy options in vending machines.  Cavalier has a very personal reason for becoming involved.

“I have grandson who has Aspergers Syndrome and obesity is a challenge for him. He is now in high school and the only products available to him in vending machines are chocolate bars, potato chips and pop which have an adverse effect on both of his problems.  Today, 28 per cent of our youth are overweight or obese and this is an issue that our education system has to put our youth ahead of the commissions they have been receiving,” she says.

“The really scary part is that the people looking after the vending machines, in a lot of cases, are the head of the physical education departments. The fear of losing even some of the commissions for a temporary time is devastating to the schools. They fear what they don’t know.

“We have elementary schools in Durham Region that can’t get milk for their students, but they use chocolate bars for fundraisers. There has to be a major shift in thinking and I believe that schools are the opportune place to support healthy lifestyles. The government banned ‘junk food’ in elementary schools. We teach those students about the healthy foods but then we sent them off to high schools, where the earlier good we taught them is now undone.”

On April 8, she was the only vending professional to present at the provincial steering committee on eliminating trans-fat in schools. It was her dedication, with the help of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Dairy Farmers of Canada and the Ontario Public Health Association, that enabled this bill to be passed.

When asked why she was the only vending professional to present she had this to add: “Vending machines operators like doing what they know. Junk food is what they know and it has afforded them a good living. What operators do not know is there is a market for this business out there. This is where vending is headed and you have to be forward thinking.”

It is all well and good to suggest more healthy options for vending clients but how do operators convince clients that the product provided will remain fresh, and actually sell out of the machine?

Cavalier’s fresh fruits are sold in vacuum-sealed plastic bags and refrigerated. She also offers granola bars baked products, diabetic friendly foods, gluten free foods, yogurt and pudding. Granola bars, for example, have a lower price-point than chocolate bars – making them an excellent snacking alternative.

For vending operators, it makes sense to recognize the health needs of clients and adjust products accordingly. But, as vending veteran and industry consultant, David Murphy, suggests, it is also a good idea to get an understanding as to what the client considers “healthy.”

“There are thousands of different healthy products out there, but it’s a good idea to talk to your client and find out what they really want. Otherwise, it won’t sell.”

Processed foods and fatty products are no longer an option for the vending industry and more healthy fare must become available. It makes sense to change as large corporations and municipally funded institutions, such as schools, attempt to provide healthier choices.

Could we soon be looking for ripe bananas next to the cola machines? In some locations, we already are.