Vendors feel the heat
Consider California Vending Services, a one-and-a-half route operation in rural Turlock, Calif. Located 80 miles from both San Francisco and Sacramento, Turlock is hardly a hotbed of nutritionist activism. The most attention company owner Gordon Dirvanian paid to nutrition was responding to a few requests for low-carb products.
One day, a few weeks ago, his local newspaper called him and asked him if he was providing any sort of nutrition labeling. The reporter was following national and regional issues, and wanted to "localize" the story and see what a local vending company was doing about nutrition labeling.
After Dirvanian answered that he wasn't rating his products for nutrition, the reporter then asked if he was open to doing so. Dirvanian answered that he is open to doing anything his customers ask him to do.
Dirvanian has noticed that the snack manufacturers are coming out with more products labeled as baked and not fried, and that these products hold their own in many of his accounts. He plans to keep monitoring the situation, and he's glad his national trade association is on top of the issue.
In Chicagoland, where legislative initiatives are more prevalent, Rich Caldarazzo, president of Twin Oaks Vending, based in suburban Aurora, Ill., has made it a point to be on top of what restrictions are being proposed. While Caldarazzo has not decided to go out of his way to educate his customers about nutrition, he isn't going to let his guard down.
Like many operators, Caldarazzo is a bit hesitant to take an aggressive approach, following an earlier attempt to promote low-fat products in the middle 1990s. At that time, consumer researchers heralded the "low-fat" revolution.
Twin Oaks Vending signed on with Heart Smart International, a third-party nutrition labeling program. He instructed his drivers to attach channel markers on his snack and food machines to draw attention to products certified as "heart healthy" by Heart Smart, only to find that it didn't do much for sales. (The Heart Smart certification is based on American Heart Association standards.)
Like many operators who joined the low-fat bandwagon, Caldarazzo thinks the interest was created more by location managers who wanted to position themselves as health advocates and by consumers who weren't completely honest about what they wanted to see in the machines. "They gave you lip service, but when we watched them in the cafeteria, they didn't purchase it," he said.
Caldarazzo still offers Heart Smart to customers who express an interest in the program, but he's not proactively promoting it. "We're not getting the demand (from locations) we were seven years ago," he said.
Caldarazzo realizes that government mandates will continue, but he doesn't see it going beyond the public sector. As for consumer demand, he's noticed an increasing acceptance for baked snacks recently, but nothing dramatic.
Bill Buckholz, chairman of Goodman Vending Services Inc. in Reading, Pa., has been tagging his machines for years to draw attention to healthier items, using a variety of programs. While these efforts have never done a lot for sales, he thinks the industry needs to keep promoting itself as a healthy industry.
"More and more, snack food has gotten the image that it can harm you," he said. Because of this, he continues to participate in Heart Smart, and regularly includes nutrition information in his customer newsletter. Buckholz welcomes the NAMA Balanced for Life initiative, and will take a look at the Snackwise color coding program.
"It's a step in the right direction," Buckholz said. "We've got to let people know our industry is conscious of these things."
As a Pennsylvania operator, Buckholz has seen more than his fair share of regulatory action. The Philadelphia school district has banned soda, and some state bills have advocated eliminating vending completely. He has testified against some of these measures as a member of his state vending association.