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Operator’s Perspective: Pleasing Everyone is Exhausting and Unprofitable

Pleasing Everyone is Exhausting and Unprofitable


April 30, 2008
By Lio Prataviera

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There are a variety of factors that bear this out. For instance, in a
workplace that has both men and women, women generally prefer smaller
portions while men want larger. Then you add another factor: labourers
(i.e factory or shop work) often want snacks that offer all the
calories they can get, as opposed to office staff who want the choice
of calorie-reduced or more healthy food alternatives.

In the food service industry, as in life itself, it’s impossible to please everyone.   

There are a variety of factors that bear this out. For instance, in a workplace that has both men and women, women generally prefer smaller portions while men want larger. Then you add another factor: labourers (i.e factory or shop work) often want snacks that offer all the calories they can get, as opposed to office staff who want the choice of calorie-reduced or more healthy food alternatives.

Depending on the time of year, and whether it is warm or cold outside, these tastes change. The task of meeting all the various demands is like trying to hit a constantly moving target.

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Attempting to cover all of the various tastes and preferences you’re asked to provide is every vendor’s biggest challenge. Sometimes a location can only accommodate one beverage vender, but still have to provide for fifteen different beverage requests.

There are also a huge number of beverage venders, can venders, bottle venders, live display venders, bubble-fronts, flat-fronts and the rest. Keeping up with the constant development of packaging and equipment is time-intensive and often time-inefficient. Choosing a couple of popular models and becoming familiar with them is the most practical way to work around this situation.

And what about snack machines? We’ve all experienced requests for specific healthy snacks and then no one – not even the people requesting them – purchase them on a regular basis. And (of course), they complain when you take them out.

The snack choices available are endless, so there are endless requests for every possibility. Cookies with raisins or cookies without … and there’s always someone who prefers peanut butter. The reality is that you can only offer so many cookies and have room left for other lines like pastries, chips and chocolate, all of which are expected every time they turn to the vending machines.

Coffee service and vending is the classic example of the impossibility of pleasing everyone. As we all know, there are literally hundreds of varieties of coffee, from strong to mild, and in various weights and flavours. There are also organic varieties and those that support fair trade coffee marketing practices. Everyone in the office lobbies the vendor for their favourite, but it is near impossible to stock all the different types because they go stale over time. Besides, who has the space to store it all?

Over the last ten years, a wave of new coffee equipment has flooded the market. Flavia, Keurig, pods, thermal and glass servers and espresso machines present all new issues to deal with because every office or workplace has individuals who will prefer one or the other or all of them together. Try hard to work with your client to establish a preferred consensus that the majority will be happy with. Otherwise you’ll need to stock spare parts for all of these machines, which is expensive and adds complexity in managing your parts inventory.

And that reminds me of a story: I had one location where the people were grumbling about the lack of variety in the snack machine, so I put up a piece of paper and asked people to jot down what they would like to see in the machine. The requests they listed were nearly all somewhat strange and often obscure. Still, I exhausted every supplier that I knew to find what they were requesting. Some may have been snacks that were a favourite when they were kids but the product no longer existed. After asking where they purchased a particular product, they said it was available and quite popular in their home country. No wonder I was spinning my wheels trying to get a hold of these products!

A coffee roaster told me recently that 90 per cent of his business comes from only four standard coffee blends. The trouble is, without the many other varied flavours that he offers, such as Jamaican Me Crazy and Orange Brandy, his clients would go elsewhere because they want a lot of variety. This is the “80/20 rule” in full effect; 80 per cent of our business comes from only 20 per cent of the products.

And that is the final lesson: go with what you know is popular and accepted rather than chasing down the impossible. Trying to answer to every taste and preference could not only drive you crazy, it could also drive you out of business.o

Lio Prataviera is the general manager of Real Refreshments, a full-service snack and refreshment vending company. Lio can be reached through Canadian Vending Magazine at vending@annexweb.com.