It’s eye catching — a vending machine wrapped in colorful graphics touting words like “healthy,” “natural” and “organic.” It looks like an answer for consumers who ask for better-for-you products.
However, specialty vending programs are nothing new. A few years ago, the Atkins and South Beach no-/low-carbohydrate diets gave birth to all kinds of vending programs offering low- or no-carb products in dedicated machines. Vending industry veteran Bob Grosh started Low Carb Vending LLC, which offered vending operators designated low-carb vending machines and low-carb snacks from a number of manufacturers. He closed the program in 2007 after three years because there wasn’t enough demand. “The media made a bigger deal out of it than it was,” said Grosh.
Pure Foods LLC, an at-home deliverer of diet meals and snacks, discontinued its vending program of combination machines with low-carb products and preferred beverages when the program was no longer in line with the strategic plan of the company, according to a company representative.
LOW-CARB BROADENS TO HEALTHY
But new healthy vending programs continue to emerge as demand for “better for you” products grows, despite the recession. And turnkey programs that offer machines, the products to stock them and locations to place them in continue to bring new people into the vending business.
“It’s the best time to do (healthy vending),” said Jim Kulka, a new operator working with H.U.M.A.N. Healthy Vending, one of the “turnkey” healthy vending programs available. He started Natural Snack Vending in Colorado Springs, Colo. in April 2009 when he decided he wanted to get healthy products to kids in a fun and quick way.
He chose H.U.M.A.N. (helping unite man and nutrition) Healthy Vending because it has a history of offering healthy vending programs to gyms and health clubs, under the name FitFuel, and eventually expanding to colleges.
In 2009, H.U.M.A.N. offered people like Kulka a chance to own their own healthy vending business using H.U.M.A.N.’s name and marketing.
Kulka was impressed with the various sizes and configurations of machines H.U.M.A.N. offered, wrapped in graphics associated with healthy products.
For someone new to the business, Kulka also wanted a company that would find him locations, install the equipment and train him on how to use it for a reasonable fee. The digital LCD screens displaying streaming videos, credit card readers, power-saving devices, touchscreen control panels, and remote-monitoring technology were bonuses. H.U.M.A.N. also provides contacts for product suppliers like United Natural Food Inc., which supplies Whole Food Market, and Europa Sports.
SCHOOLS RESPOND POSITIVELY TO HEALTHY VENDING
Kulka’s gotten outstanding response from school administrators and CFOs. “I take tons of food to wellness meetings with school administrators,” said Kulka. His favorite products include juice-based beverages IZZE and The Switch, as well as popcorn and CLIF bars. The products are often gone before the meeting begins.
Kulka is unconcerned about the higher price points healthy products carry, usually 50 cents to $1 more than traditional products. According to Kulka, the Colorado public school market is a unique environment because soda and “junk” food will not be allowed for new a la carte and vending contracts, so there will be less competition.
His biggest hurdle is older existing contracts and waiting for “requests for proposals” required by school boards. He commenced his “premium location acquisition” phase with H.U.M.A.N. in July 2009, which includes a comprehensive, local marketing campaign that identifies and secures locations in the Colorado Springs area.
TURNKEY PROGRAMS BRING NEW COMPETITION
Turnkey programs sometimes bring unwelcome competition for traditional operators trying to sell “better for you” products. Camelback Vending Services in Phoenix, Ariz., is one such example. Although Camelback uses the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) Balanced for Life program (now called Fit Pick), the company encountered a machine placed by a turnkey “healthy” vending program that wasn’t abiding by the district’s nutrition rules.