Canadian Vending

Products Snacks
Puhleeeessse Mom!

September 30, 2009
By Michelle Brisebois


Vending has already come up against some pretty tough issues when it comes to young consumers.

Vending has already come up against some pretty tough issues when it comes to young consumers.

The witch-hunt to root out machines in schools has been well documented
and a challenge for our industry. To recap, the House of Commons health
committee studied Canada’s obesity epidemic and found that 26 per cent
of Canadian children and adolescents aged two to 17 were overweight or

Most sobering was the fact that Canada’s childhood obesity rate ranks
among the highest in the world: fifth among 34 developed countries.
Parents, the medical community and government regulators searched for a
place to lay blame and lay blame they did.


Vending, traditional food service and large food manufacturers have all
been blamed in varying degrees. Suddenly, it became socially
unacceptable to create food brands, ad campaigns and appealing
characters designed to entice children to consume a product deemed to
be “junk food.”

While this new diligence is admirable, it will no doubt have an impact
on those powerhouse brands that have relied on marketing directly to
kids. But just who’s on board with this new world order and how is the
vending industry expected to adapt?

 Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) is a self-regulating board designed
to set guidelines around appropriate advertising protocol. In 2008,
they decided to follow the lead of similar groups in the U.K. and the
U.S. by announcing that a number of retailers and manufacturers
including Kraft, McDonald’s, Kellogg and Nestle had committed to adhere
to guidelines restricting how their products can be promoted to kids.

This announcement followed the April 2007 launch of Canada’s Children’s
Advertising Initiative (CAI). This initiative saw 16 food and drink
manufacturers agreeing to stop advertising directly to children less
than 12 years of age unless it was a product that promoted healthy
dieting and lifestyle choices.

According to the ASC “Of the 16 participating companies, eight did not
direct any advertising to children under 12. The remaining eight all
exceeded the CAI’s baseline requirement by committing that 100 per cent
of their advertising directed to children under twelve would be for
products that met the CAI’s nutrition standards, rather than the
minimum 50 per cent required for participation. As well, while the CAI
required that products meet at least one of the CAI’s nutrition
standards, all advertised products met at least two.”

Participants reviewed in the report included some pretty big players in
the food industry. They included: Cadbury Adams Canada Inc.; Campbell
Company of Canada; Coca-Cola Ltd.; General Mills Canada Corporation;
Hershey Canada Inc.; Janes Family Foods Ltd.; Kellogg Canada Inc.;
Kraft Canada Inc.; Mars Canada Inc.; McCain Foods (Canada); McDonald’s
Restaurants of Canada Limited; Nestlé Canada Inc.; Parmalat Canada;
PepsiCo Canada ULC; Unilever Canada Inc. and Weston Bakeries Limited.

By deciding to self-regulate their marketing activities to children,
these companies are not only addressing criticism head-on, they’re
ensuring that they have a hand in creating their own destiny. Had they
chosen to avoid dealing with the issue, it could have possibly lead to
government-mandated advertising standards – a less palatable outcome to
the companies involved.

But does this new diligence help to reduce the waistlines of Canadian children?

As we’ve argued previously, removing the machines and the advertising
messages only addresses part of the issue. Parents are the final

The numbers don’t necessarily indicate that curtailing the ad campaigns
actually has an impact on childhood obesity. Quebec, the only province
to impose a ban on children’s advertising, has a higher childhood
obesity rate than Alberta. The rates in both Alberta (22 per cent) and
Quebec (23 per cent) are below the national average.

This suggests that perhaps factors apart from advertising (such as
physical activity rates) influence the incidence of childhood obesity
more significantly. It would be wonderful for our society and
government to take a more holistic approach to solving this problem.
Ideally, it would be a solution that includes encouraging physical

Until that happens, the vending industry needs to think like a retailer
and address some of the negative health-related perceptions associated
with the channel.

A U.S. study asked consumers about their perceptions of the types of
products available through vending machines. The study asked
participants if they agreed that vending machines included healthy
choices. The results showed that 26 per cent said they disagreed, 23
per cent said they agreed, and 51 per cent said neither.

If your machines offer healthy options – create icons or stickers to
quickly identify those healthy products in the machine. It will
reinforce the notion that the machine in and of itself isn’t evil –
it’s just another way to buy all kinds of foods – those that are
decadent and those that are good for you too. A flyer or direct mail
piece sent to consumers around the machine’s location could list those
items that are considered to be on the healthier side.

Now is the time to focus on smaller portions, fibre, fruit and nuts.
Since so many children still rely on their parents to purchase the food
they eat, this whole “hands off the kids” advertising approach will
perhaps serve mostly to diminish how intensely kids push their parents
to buy certain foods.

The key for our industry is to complement what the CAI is doing to help
parents get their kids’ eating habits back on track. The manufacturers
are turning the volume down on the ad messages. We should turn up the
volume on the selection and communication.

When it comes to grateful parents, we may just earn ourselves some (dare I say it) brownie points.