Two years ago, Clell Hoffman, the foodservice director at Albany Unified School District in Albany, Calif., decided it was time to replace the beverage vending machines at the high school. Hoffman wanted to offer more than 16.9-ounce water and juice. The state nutrition rules he had to meet, coupled with the fact that the bottles had to be fairly rugged to prevent possible breakage in the stacker beverage machines, severely limited his product choices.
When Hoffman found out about the variable temperature machine offered by Vend-ucation, a school vending resource based in Dunbarton, N.H., he was intrigued. Not being a stacker machine, it is less restricted in product choices. And being a combination snack/beverage machine, he could also offer snacks. But that wasn’t all.
The Alpine SZ 5000 machine made by U-Select-It Corp. came with remote machine monitoring hardware, enabling Hoffman to monitor transactions via the Internet. There would be no more manual inventorying.
Two years later, Hoffman is glad he made the change. He has been able to provide students a variety of snacks and beverages that meet California’s strict nutrition rules. Vending sales have more than quadrupled. The two Alpine machines bring in more than $4,000 per month, compared to the $750 the two previous bottle drop machines did.
And because of the greater variety of products, his average gross margin has increased from 40 percent to 55 percent.
“This machine is really versatile as far as what kind of products we can put in there,” Hoffman said. He is offering protein bars, 8-ounce juice, string cheese, seaweed, half sandwiches, dried fruit, baked chips, and bottled water.
Hoffman is not concerned about the stricter nutrition rules that take effect July 12, 2012. “None of these (products in the machine) are even close to exceeding the limits as far as fat and sugar content,” he said. “It’s all healthy vending as far as what we have in there. It’s there to have access to snacks and to keep them going throughout the day.”
Albany, Calif. is one of many school vending success stories that have emerged in the last several years. Since 2007, schools nationwide have discovered vending machines are a good way to improve students’ access to healthy food and beverages.
A handful of vending equipment marketers have figured out ways to interface the machines’ internal reporting with cafeteria point of sale (POS) tracking software. Hence, the machines allow schools to integrate the vending sales with manual food line sales.
This allows the schools to document the products and the number of students being served, thereby helping them comply with government funding requirements.
“The vending machine is just another POS line,” noted Sherry Ephraim, Midwest account rep for Horizon International, which provides schools with POS cafeteria software. She said her company now advises schools they can interface vending machines with their cafeteria food lines.
Vending authorizes meal eligibility
Schools have been able to use state-of-the-art vending machines to authorize students who are eligible for government subsidized meals. In situations where students use prepaid payment methods, kids can get their meals by entering identification numbers and birth dates on a pin pad.
Educating the younger generation
Schools already have their own walk-in refrigerators and freezers for storing product. Many schools have staff that can manage vending machines along with their onsite feeding.
What’s the benefit of this growing self-op movement to the vending industry? The younger generation is associating vending with healthy products. And based on most accounts, the kids like the new machines.
“We are feeding more kids and using today’s technology to do it,” explained Bob Gottlieb, director of Star Foods, a division of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based VE South Inc., a provider of school vending solutions. Gottlieb said there are about 250 Star Food machines on site nationwide.