Saturday, 14 July 2012


No Hostess snacks for sale in the school hallways? A ban on large soft drinks? There may be a nationwide attack on fat-laden snacks and sugar-filled beverages in the greater war against obesity, but those who provide vending services in New Hampshire are not only staying ahead of the curve — they’re leading people toward a healthier lifestyle.
It’s only been a handful of years since the majority of offerings from a vending machine consisted of sodas, chips and candy bars. Since then, we haven’t been able to read or watch the news without learning about obesity and related illnesses, rising health care costs, and the adage about an ounce of prevention via a healthy diet.
Those in the vending industry noticed the changes happening slowly, starting with requests from customers.
“About five years ago we started adding healthier choices in our machines,” said Edward Dooley, president of A&B Vending in Canterbury. His company services the entire state and his main customer base is companies with 100-plus employees.
“Back then, the sales weren’t there to justify (the healthy choices),” he said. A couple of years later, he began to see that number increase. “Customers are better educated,” he said.
Now, the company touts “healthy vending food services” on its website. One of the company’s newest machines contains products consumers can choose from according to their dietary and even religious needs, including organic, gluten- and allergen-free, vegan and kosher. The machine also contains locally produced selections, which Dooley gets through United Natural Foods in Chesterfield.
Although Dooley said healthy vending menu selections are slowly catching on, a large population is needed to support an all-healthy vending machine.
“If you put one in your average manufacturing plant in New Hampshire, it wouldn’t work,” he said.
Many companies have adopted what Keene-based Monadnock Vending Co. president John Learned called the “70/30 rule,” meaning 30 percent of the merchandise offerings in machine meet dietary guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2005. That means those selections have less than 35 percent total fat, less than 10 percent saturated fat (nuts and seeds excluded) and less than 35 percent of their total weight from sugar.
Several companies also have their own commissaries to make prepared food (much of it considered healthy) for sale in the machines.
Learned said although healthier choices such as bottled water and trail mix are about 30 percent more expensive than traditional vending machine items (sodas and chips), sales have increased since the changes were made.
Dooley’s sales have stayed the same since his machines began offering healthful foods and beverages, but sales of brand-name sodas and chips haven’t decreased. Vending companies provide a service, meaning they place the machine, keep it stocked and maintain it — there’s no charge to have one. The only prerequisite for a customer to keep an account is that the machine take in a certain amount of revenue, usually per week.
One trend that’s catching on is company-subsidized snacks. One of Dooley’s biggest customers sets the price of healthy items in the vending machine lower than less-healthful counterparts and covers the difference.
Learned’s largest customer, in Keene, instilled a similar program.
“They lowered the price of water below the price of soda and (made) almonds lower than candy bars,” he said.
Public schools are more restrictive about the types of vending machine offerings allowed and how they’re operated. The changes were largely made as a response to first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign that began in 2010 to end childhood obesity, which has more than tripled in the past 30 years according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
David Black, owner of Newmont Vending in Claremont, has a few public high schools as accounts, but he used to have more: he removed several machines.
“It’s getting increasingly difficult to satisfy them,” he said. Some schools, he said, require the machines to be turned off during the lunch period; others don’t allow the sale of certain products that compete with those sold in the cafeteria. Not to mention, school accounts don’t bring in any revenue during vacation periods.
“I’m not making enough money to warrant servicing those accounts,” he said.
About half of the states have adopted restrictions, including policies that limit the times or types of foods available for sale in vending machines.
New Hampshire has no state guidelines, but each school can set its own policy. The Monadnock School District, for instance, limits the operation of vending machines to after-school hours for student use. Vending machines at Keene High School are under the control of Keene Food Services and have only healthy snacks, water and dairy products.
Dooley said he no longer has public schools as customers.
“There are too many guidelines to follow,” he said.
Another hurdle to jump may come this fall. The Food and Drug Administration is proposing requirements for providing calorie information for certain food items sold from vending machines, part of provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.
That would mean vending machine operators who own or operate 20 or more vending machines would have to disclose calorie information for food sold from a vending machine unless certain nutrition information is visible to consumers on individual packages inside the machine. Vending companies that don’t meet the requirements may be fined.
Scott Allan of Allan’s Vending Service in White River Junction, Vt., (his service area is central New Hampshire and Vermont) said some snack manufacturers, such as chip giant Frito-Lay, plan to put nutrition labeling on the front of the bag for easy viewing inside a vending machine. But other foods his company provides may not meet the requirements and it’s costly to add the labeling to every product.
“It may cost the vending industry millions overall,” he said.
One more-cost-effective solution may be interactive readouts. Some of Allan’s machines have a touch screen for consumers to read nutrition information about a product before they buy it, a feature Dooley said some of his machines also have.
While some of his competitors saw an increase in overall sales when they began to offer healthy alternatives in their machines, Allan said he’s seen a 10 percent drop.
“When you change a machine to healthy versus traditional snacks, you see 20 to 30 percent less in revenue,” he said.
One of his clients, a hospital, replaced sugar-filled beverages with bottled water in its machines earlier this year. Allan said there was a 15 percent drop in sales in those machines for the first six months.
He has faith that will change as more and more people get on board the health-conscious train.
“Things are going to swing back around,” he said.
Original Article Here

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