Hot button issue: healthy vending

by Lynn Petrak
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You may not be able to a push a button and get healthy — not yet, anyway — but some consumers are kicking off their New Year’s resolutions to make better choices, including the times they’re standing in front of vending machines.

By and large, vending machines still feature a traditional variety of chips, candy bars and cookies for on-the-go eaters, but better-for-you choices are increasingly behind the glass: items like bags of Skinny Pop popcorn, Clif nutrition bars and ginger chews, to name a few. Adding healthier options may be a way for vending businesses to ramp up engagement.

According to a study on US vending trends from global market research firm Euromonitor International, London, vending machine sales declined for the second year in a row last year, a slide attributed to competition from other retail channels. In its report, Euromonitor also noted that American consumers are looking for fresh foods for snacks and finding them at other places.

Some manufacturers are making it easier for institutions to offer healthier choices in their vending machines. In December, PepsiCo, Purchase, NY, introduced a “Hello Goodness” vending initiative. The program includes a new vending unit that dispenses BFY foods and beverages such as Lay’s Oven Baked potato chips, Sabra ready-to-eat hummus and Quaker Real Medleys bars, among others. "Consumers want more choice when it comes to what they eat and drink on- the- go, and we're providing the choices they want," said Kirk Tanner, COO, PepsiCo North America Beverages.

Other companies that specialize in healthy vending systems are reaching out to place more of their machines in places like health clubs, hospitals, schools and community centers. San Diego-based Fresh Healthy Vending, for instance, offers a concept that includes contemporary-looking vending machines filled with items like popped chips, nutrition bars, fresh fruit juices, fresh wraps and yogurt.

Driven by consumers and institutions looking for healthier snack choices, the vending industry is working in other ways to provide greater variety. The National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) updated its “FitPick” healthy vending programs more than a year ago, based on a changing nutrition landscape. Among other updates, the FitPick program has adopted the US Department of Agriculture’s nutrient standards for smart snacks in schools.

“FitPick’s goal is to provide consumers with nutrition information, and given today’s health and wellness challenges, making this information available is more important than ever. We’ve seen growth in program participation, with a presence at workplaces, colleges, military bases and schools across the country,” reported Kelly Doherty, senior manager, marketing and communications, NAMA.  This spring, she added, NAMA is providing graphics for vending machines and micro markets that feature digital screens.

Beyond pledges to get healthy and fit in a new year, Ms. Doherty underscored the overall growing expectation for healthier options. “Snacking trends show that consumers, particularly millennials, are looking for a wide variety of snack options, including BFY options. Growing awareness and concern for health and wellness will continue to influence snacking trends, providing opportunities for companies in our industry in terms of product innovation, variety and the adoption of nutrition programs like FitPick,” she said.

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