A hungry customer browsing the fresh food carousel is thinking several things: How long has that been in there? Does it contain XYZ ingredient? Would I rather buy ABC product from a different retailer?
This means vending operators have a lot to convey in a small space that should also entice. Once upon a time, consumers didn't expect as much. Competitive "to-go" food wasn't as prevalent. Vend food was a convenience people appreciated and they didn't give much thought to the packaging. The labels on these products were simple: the product name was on a sticker only slightly larger than a postage stamp.
This label is gone, said Larry Eils, NAMA's senior technical director, and anything like it is violating federal law. "I would guess 25 percent or less (of operators still use incorrect labeling) despite all the work we have done to get the word out," said Eils.
Labels are one of the most important pieces of today's fresh food packaging. It's the place to address nutritional concerns, safety concerns and merchandise effectively.
Labels produced in commissaries must list the product name, package weight, expiration date and company information — all in a certain size font. But that's not all.
Allergen must be declared
In addition, allergen information is currently required for the eight categories that account for more than 90 percent of all documented food allergies in the U.S. and represent the most severe or life-threatening reactions from food. Commissary owners must list milk, eggs, fish (which kind), crustacean (which kind), shellfish, tree nuts (which kind), peanuts, wheat, or soy beans. This information needs to be located in parenthesis in the ingredient list, or listed after the ingredients with the term, "contains."
Ensuring necessary information is on the label and readable is one thing and strategic placement is another. "We try not to have too big a label that it covers up the product," explained Rhonda Jensen, foodservice director at Stansfield Vending Inc. in La Crosse, Wis. "We look at each item and put a label on as best we can without covering the product."
Jensen also knows that customers are buying with their eyes. "The cost of packaging is almost more than the food," said Jensen. This is especially true for the containers Stansfield uses for its catering business.
And because fast food with appealing packaging is more prevalent today than ever before, consumers are more conditioned to buy professional looking packages.
One item that really helps with sales is co-branding. "We know that branding does affect some people," said Jensen. "They know the product, so they will buy the product."
Stansfield places the logos of certain well-known brand names on certain products. With great success, Jensen has used the Johnsonville brat logos on pressure-sensitive adhesive stickers.
Jay Holstein, owner of Black Tie Vending Services Inc., in Baltimore, Md., uses stickers from his local Saval meats on the machine itself to avoid cluttering the package label with a logo. "I don't want to overpower the package," he said. He puts his food in clear containers, showcasing the product, and has a personalized label pre-printed with his logo at Met-Speed, after which he adds the other relevant information.
According to the recent consumer survey presented by NAMA, 69 percent of consumers sometimes or always use brand as a judgment when buying a product. Operators have an opportunity to increase sales based on both national and local brands, either with labels or with stickers.
Consider Label placement
Placement on the package is of the utmost importance, explained Craig Hesch, chief financial officer of A.H. Management Group Inc., Rolling Meadows, Ill. "Presentation is more than half the battle. There's a stigma that vending food is not the best," he said. "Packaging and presentation can help that."