“As long as the turnkey healthy vending programs are ‘legit,’ the services they provide can have some merit when tied in to other elements of standard vending,” said Hicks.
Hicks doesn’t use turnkey programs himself since he wants to select his own locations. “We want to make sure it’s adequate for us in the long run,” he said.
Many locations like custom graphics
Though some locations like the graphics of the dedicated healthy vending machines, Hicks believes these graphics work best in places with a lot of public traffic. A more captive audience cares more about what is in the machine.
For products inside the machine, Hicks uses the NAMA Fit Pick program. The program includes a sticker above the coin mech that explains the program to the consumer and a logo on the slot with products that fit the program’s nutritional guidelines.
Some established operators have tried turnkey programs, only to encounter issues with getting the right product at the right time.
ESTABLISHED OPERATORS TRY TURNKEY PROGRAMS
Joel Sax, owner of M&P Vending in Chicago, Ill. tried Stoneyfield Farms vending program in 2005. It was a short-lived program where Stoneyfield gave a machine to a school, then the school contracted an operator to fill it with Stoneyfield products.
“We had trouble getting the products,” said Sax. “And when we did get them in, the wrong product was sent or it would have a bad date.” The products also didn’t sell well.
“It was just like selling a salad in a sandwich machine — very few accounts actually buy them, but everybody says they want them,” said Sax.
He thinks the major hurdle for healthy vending is that customers don’t want to pay a higher price for these products. For his school accounts, he’s using yogurt, pretzels, wheat thins, baked chips and other products available from vending distributors. He’s tried some unconventional products at these accounts, like fruit in a bag, but they didn’t sell well. “It’s a great marketing tool,” said Sax about healthy vending, “but not realistic.” Still, Sax said he can’t ignore the growing popularity of stores like Whole Foods. If that demand translates to vending, he wants to offer the products and services. He’s not sure it will, since different people may shop at Whole Foods than patronize a vending machine.
Sax is interested in turnkey programs because they promise to find locations for him. He feels the investment is minimal and being able to offer vending machines designated as healthy will help him get accounts. He would put some of these machines next to traditional machines. “If at some point it (healthy vending) makes money, I’ll be pleasantly surprised,” he said.
VARIETY HOLDS KEY TO HEALTHY PRODUCTS
“We’re successful because of the type of products we’re putting in,” said Gill Sanchez, a vending industry insider who has worked for two vending operations before starting Vend Natural in 2007.
Vend Natural offers machines with healthy-looking graphics, delivery/installation, training, software reporting, Web-based training, location assistance, and marketing support. The company also puts operators in contact with distributors for specialty products considered healthy.
Sanchez believes lack of product variety is one reason some healthy programs have not succeeded in vending.
He tracks product sales via Cantaloupe software in each machine he sells to operators and makes suggestions based on sales data. Operators also have access to the data.
“Healthy vending to a traditional vendor might be baked chips or a hard granola bar,” said Sanchez, “but we offer products like Pirate’s booty (puffed rice snack) and Naked (smoothie drinks).” Many of the products are readily available in the traditional vending channels, but aren’t offered to customers. Sanchez believes having to carry extra products and charging higher prices is what deters traditional operators. He also believes his machines are intended for a different clientele. “They’re designed for the person who wants an alternative snack,” said Sanchez. He believes the Vend Natural machines would work next to a traditional vender.