The Star Food machine is a first-in, first-out, carousel, refrigerated machine made by N&W Global Vending S.p.a., based in Valbrembo, Italy, that can use wireless reporting and biometric identification.
Gottlieb said most schools initially become interested in machines as a way to augment manual feeding lines. “Cafeterias are bursting at the seams,” he said. He noted that the Star Food machines have generated a lot of positive media coverage.
But the schools are also finding the vending machines support their health education initiatives.
School vending machines are not presently required to comply with federal school food nutrition rules. Some do have to comply with state and local rules. But beyond these requirements, many schools have recognized the beneficial role vending machines can play in supporting their nutrition initiatives. Hence, many are applying cafeteria food standards to their vending offerings. (See sidebar above.)
Schools recognize vending’s benefits
Pinellas County Schools, based in Largo, Fla. has placed 180 vending machines at 10 schools since 2006, noted Art Dunham, director of foodservices. Previously, the foodservice operation did not use vending machines. Dunham said it was not hard for the foodservice staff to prepare the meals and place them in the machines.
The 20 Star Food machines in Pinellas County report the number of meals served to the cafeteria POS system, which prepares daily reports that the schools use to demonstrate compliance with government funding requirements. After school, the machines are filled with a la carte items, fetching additional sales.
Dunham particularly appreciates the fact that the machines send a temperature reading to his computer every 10 minutes. If the power goes out, the machine will automatically shut off after 30 minutes.
Vending increases lunch sales
“We got the vending machines because we couldn’t get the kids through the serving lines (in the limited time allowed),” noted Donna Martin, foodservice director for Burke County Public Schools, based in Waynesboro, Ga. Her two Star Food machines sell 75 to 150 meals per day and increased lunch servings by 10 percent, she noted, “which is significant.” The machines serve entrees in clear, plastic bags, offering salads, chicken fajitas, chicken strip salads, sandwiches, ham and cheese rollups, peanut butter and jelly rollups, meal bars, juice, fruit and chips.
The Star Food machine’s remote data system interfaces easily with the school cafeteria’s POS tracking software from Heartland Payment Systems.
Since all kids in the district are eligible for fully reimbursable meals, Martin opted not to allow any cash acceptance. Kids simply enter their ID number and birth date on a pin pad.
More recently, Miami Dade County, Fla. schools purchased 70 Star Foods machines, mainly as a way to serve reimbursable meals at its 350 schools, said Susan Rothstein, coordinator for nutritional wellness. Nearly three quarters of the students are eligible for free or reduced price meals. Rothstein said she became interested in the Star Food machine after reading about it in a school foodservice publication. Rothstein said she was able to secure grants to cover the cost of the machines.
Rothstein said the Star Food machine’s remote monitoring system interfaced easily with her cafeteria POS tracking software.
When a student enters his or her ID number and birth date on the pin pad, the system determines one of three reimbursable levels: free, reduced or paid. The district is then reimbursed $2.79, $0.40 or $0.28, accordingly.
The meals have three to five components, offering combinations of yogurt, salads, sandwiches, wraps, fruit and vegetables. The most popular is fruit, yogurt and granola parfait, Rothstein said.
Students who are required to cover some of the cost can replenish their account by bringing cash to school, paying by credit card on the Internet, or by sending a check to the school. Rothstein has opted not to activate cash acceptance on the machines in order to discourage vandalism.