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Vending Visions: spring 2013

A slow transition toward healthy vending


May 8, 2013
By David Murphy

Topics

There have been many significant changes to the vending and office
coffee professions since I began my career in these industries many
years ago.

There have been many significant changes to the vending and office coffee professions since I began my career in these industries many years ago. One especially memorable change was operators moving from mechanical to electronic machines – and what a challenge that was! To put this change into perspective, imagine moving from a rotary phone directly to the present day iPhone, without any other technology upgrades in between. In the beginning, as manufacturers developed new software for vending machines, software changed yearly, causing a costly and timely nightmare. In the early years of electronics, vending equipment manufacturers were too quick to rush the product to market. Because of this, as the operator, we not only survived these better changes, but also were given an early lead into the new world of communication.

As we moved forward with newer and larger vending machines, the demand for many more types of products and new varieties of grew. One thing that did stay constant was the refrigerator food vendor. The machines have grown to be a little larger, but after all these years, customers can still purchase a hamburger, sandwich, milk, soup, or just about any other meal from a machine, just the same as was done 30 years ago. There are “healthy” dinners available for food service, but take a minute to check the nutritional facts, including the salt content and the calories. So many of these products are marinated in something – eat too many, and you just might glow in the dark. We now have meals for vending with a best-before date that’s more than a year away. Are any of these items really good for you?

As the demand for products increased, manufacturers of all snack foods, including drinks, found the perfect target for future sales: youth. Young people are very impressionable, and when they try something new at a young enough age, they are hooked forever.

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It’s no secret that childhood obesity is a problem in North America, and in recent years, many people have been quick to blame vending machines. Without any research, quick solutions, such as banning all vending machines or limiting products in all elementary and secondary schools, were implemented.
All of this leads to the topic of present-day healthy vending. It has taken nearly 20 years, but product manufacturers have finally developed some healthy products. The issue now is finding the correct marketing strategies for them.

As stated in No Time to Wait, a recent report released by Ontario’s ministry of health and long-term care, states, obesity cost Ontario $4.5 billion in health care in 2009, and will only get worse if something is not done. I do believe foodservice operators are doing their best to be part of the solution. The vending industry has been doing its part to progress with healthier options, but where does it stand in 2013? Across all markets and accounts, almost everywhere you find a snack and drink vendor, there will be an average of five to eight per cent of healthy products available. Of all of the large and small operators that I know, the majority say that healthy products do not sell and are only a token to give comfort to the few who demand these so-called healthy products. As an industry we are trying, but they just don’t sell.

During a recent stay at a hotel with a healthy vending machine and a regular snack machine with all the traditional snacks and drinks, my wife noticed that the healthy machine was full, and the good stuff was all gone. Drive by any fast food chain near a secondary school and you will see students heading back to the classroom for the afternoon after consuming a lunch full of fat and calories. Visit a mall around lunchtime, especially on the weekend, and check out the food court, where you will find a great number of children of all ages eating unhealthy food and washing it down with a sugary drink. Just recently, my wife and I were enjoying a snack at Costco, and watched a mother feeding a two-year-old pizza, and a three-year-old enjoying seasoned french fries.

The vending profession is very aware of the need to have healthy products, but it must cater to customer demand in order to stay in business. So, will eliminating vending machines eliminate poor eating choices? In my opinion, it will take years before we change how we live, and the only way to reverse this growing trend is at home, with parents educating their children on nutrition and making healthy choices when it comes to food.


David J. Murphy has more than 35 years of experience in the foodservice industry. He is currently working as specialized broker for vending and office coffee companies. Contact Dave at djmurphy99@bell.net, by phone at 519-428-8428, or visit his website at www.davidmurphyconsulting.com


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