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Snackdown 2007

Vending industry looks to go the distance in ‘junk food’ fight


March 31, 2008
By Cam Wood


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In 1976, a young punk who fancied himself a boxer emerged from the dank
streets of Philadelphia to capture the hearts of moviegoers around the
globe.

Vending industry looks to go the distance in ‘junk food’ fight

snackdown07In 1976, a young punk who fancied himself a boxer emerged from the dank streets of Philadelphia to capture the hearts of moviegoers around the globe.

Sure, it was just a piece of fictional celluloid, but the story was one that many could relate to: a story of battling the giant demons that continually fought to keep the protagonist down, a story about overcoming the odds.

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Now, some 31 years later, it was a fitting analogy that the vending industry chose to launch its advocacy campaign by evoking memories of an ambitious Rocky Balboa dashing up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and raising his arms in victory. The fight had not yet begun, but the boxer was confident – and ready.

And while even he would admit Jeff Suitor is not Sylvester Stallone, the past-president of the Canadian Automatic Merchandising Association stood on the stage in Vancouver, boxing gloves on hands and tracksuit zipped up, ready to use the analogy of the underdog in an epic brawl against the powerful opponent.

There is no Apollo Creed in the vending industry – the flashy champion who misjudged Stallone’s Italian Stallion in the Academy Award winning movie – but his character is quite readily played by misrepresentation of vending by government and mainstream media.

With Rocky’s “Gonna Fly Now” theme song in the backdrop, Suitor launched into his challenge by asking the vending industry to get in his corner, to join him in the battle against the misleading advertising and political propaganda.

“Snackdown 2007 is our chance to be heard,” Suitor said of the CAMA campaign. “We need to take a responsible message forward to fight misleading advertising. We need to communicate to the public that we are open to change.”

A large part of that change, according to Suitor, is in changing the public’s perception that vending is nothing but “junk food.”

“We need to engage in a campaign that will dispel the false information.”

The problem, as Suitor and his peers see it, is that industry has reached the final round in its battle.

“We need to be on the right side of this issue. If we don’t get on side, we will be forced to. If we don’t, pretty soon people will be telling us how to run our businesses.”

Suitor told the audience the vending industry needs to pick itself up off the canvas and recognize that it has the power to send the message that vending machines aren’t evil.
“Change is largely a matter of perception.”

The whole issue moved into heavyweight territory on June 7, when the provincial government in British Columbia introduced its new anti-junk-food policy.

CAMA is fighting back, calling the move “unfair” because it targets vending machines in public places but does not acknowledge the role the much larger retail outlets, such as convenience stores, plays in sales of snack foods.

“The policy falls short in all areas,” said Kim Lockie, current CAMA president. “Basically, it applies unfair constraints on the small businesses that run the vending machines and completely ignores the largest distributors.”

The Fort McMurray-based Lockie said the move is “hypocritical” as foodservice facilities selling the same products now banned often operate in colleges, universities and hospitals throughout the province.

Glen Jackson, a prominent healthy vending proponent, told the Vancouver Sun that the government has remained closed to discussion.

“We want to be part of the solution, but are being ignored,” he said.

Of course, those in the Canadian vending industry – and public health departments across B.C. – are quite familiar with Jackson’s institutional vending program. The program, designed in partnership with provincial dieticians, has been an example of proactive initiatives.

The Snackdown 2007 program is the vehicle of CAMA’s new National Advocacy Committee. Its mandate is to build a stronger relationship with the consumer and create “factual” advertising about vending and its role in Canadian society.

In order to launch the advocacy program, Suitor said CAMA is in need of some “heavyweight contenders”; sponsors that will help fund the estimated $300,000 fight.

“We need people who will go the distance,” he said.

Boxing buffs will readily agree, “If you can take the first punch, the fight is on.” But it already looks like round one in B.C. has ended with a low blow.o


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