Health and nutrition: it's the issue that won't go away. Vending operators read about it every day on VendingMarketWatch.com (Automatic Merchandiser's daily news website), mostly as it relates to schools.
Trade organizations are spending their members' money to make the media and government officials aware that the vending industry didn't create the obesity crisis and are trying to be part of the solution.
Vending operators for the most part support these efforts, which they view as a price they must pay for being in a business that is involved with public health.
The bottom line, however, is that the obesity and nutrition debate has very little to do with daily business reality for the average vending operator. The operator, for his or her part, will be more than happy to provide customers products with higher nutritional content if the customers desire it ?-- through their purchasing habits. Which for the most part, isn't happening.
But is this really the bottom line?
No one can say for sure what the legislative landscape will look like five years from now. While only a small number of states have passed laws pertaining to vending, and these apply only to schools, this could change. There is no reason to believe that vending restrictions won't extend to business and industry. The Department of Agriculture has released new dietary guidelines placing stronger emphasis on reducing calorie consumption and increasing physical activity.
Government and industry drive change
A less visible movement has emerged in the private sector: employee wellness. Medical costs are forcing employers to consider multi-faceted wellness programs to ensure healthier employees and, hopefully, lower health insurance premiums. These efforts oftentimes include an emphasis on healthier meals.
Case in point is the Highsmith Co. Inc., a distributor of supplies, furniture and equipment to libraries, based in Fort Atkinson, Wis. The company has an extensive employee wellness program that includes making nutrition information available in its employee break area.
Laura Hanson, manager of learning and development at Highsmith, said stickers on the food machine identify fat content for certain healthier food selections. These selections are priced at reduced cost, Hanson noted. The nutrition information is provided by the vending company.
Highsmith's multi-faceted wellness program has had a beneficial impact on the company's healthcare premiums, Hanson said.
Obesity interest continues
One thing's for sure: The media isn't going to let up on this issue. Obesity is a problem affecting all parts of society, and issues in the public spotlight tend to take on lives of their own; media attention feeds itself until the public genuinely loses interest.
Most vending operators have been satisfied to let their national trade association carry the weight of the burden. But many are also learning the issue affects them directly. When they do, they begin to realize the full value of the work NAMA has done on their behalf.
Vendors have new education tools
NAMA's Balanced for Life campaign, introduced this year, is an ongoing media relations effort to inform the public that vend products can be part of a healthy lifestyle. The campaign provides tools to help operators address the media at the local level, and help them participate in legislative initiatives at both the local and state levels.
One Balanced for Life tool is the Snackwise Nutrition Rating System. This is a nutrition rating plan at a Columbus, Ohio hospital that rates the nutritional quality of snack foods; products are color coded red, yellow and green.
Another tool is the support of four dietitians who are available to help operators work with legislators and other public officials on the industry's behalf. These dietitians have already been called into action at the state level.
The real bottom line for most operators is that they cannot expect to put the health and nutrition issue on the back burner, lest they get burned.