Last fall, Richland Bean Blossom High School, Elletsville Ind. used a $5,000 state dairy council grant to buy an Alpine vending machine from Vend-ucation to replace a refrigerated food machine that only accepted cash and did not interface with the cafeteria POS system. Vickie Coffey, food and nutrition director, wanted to promote reimbursable breakfast sales as well as a la carte items in addition to lunch meals. The machines offer whole grain peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, whole grain cereal bars, low-fat string cheese, cereal bowls, fruit, 100 percent fruit juice, reduced fat white milk, Splenda iced tea and bottled water.
With these selections, Coffey would not be concerned about meeting the new federal nutrition rules that take effect later this year, even if she were required by law to meet these guidelines.
The machine was so successful that she ordered another machine for the middle school.
Kids can pay using the pin pad or with cash; about 70 percent use the pin pad.
Monthly vending sales jumped from $600 to $2,500, Coffey said. She credits much of the gain to the convenience of cashless acceptance.
The staff at the school developed a video for the school Website and internal TV network to show the students how to make purchases from the vending machine using their lunch account balance.
The Heartland Software POS system makes accountability easy for her.
Vend-ucation modifies the Alpine SZ 5000 machines based on the needs of the specific customer. Jim Dillingham, owner of Vend-ucation, adjusts the selection configuration to the wellness restrictions and the type of packages they prepare.
More control over products
Burlington High School in Burlington, Vt. is another satisfied customer of the Alpine machine, noted Doug Davis, food service director. Davis for years contracted the vending based on competitive bids. He felt he did not have a lot of control over the selections. This has changed since taking the vending in-house. “This was a thought-out plan to make our vending more controlled,” he said.
The three Alpine machines have enabled him to offer reimbursable breakfast and lunch along with a la carte items. The machines accept cash and pin pad payment.
In the first 90 days, the Alpine machines delivered a 283 percent increase in sales over the previous vending machines, Davis said.
Being able to interface the vending machines with the cafeteria POS has been convenient, he said. To expect outside contractors to do this would be problematic. “Owning the machines ourselves eliminated that extra step,” he said.
Hudson, Ohio schools opted to purchase its own vending machines after Maureen Pisanick, the foodservice director, became dissatisfied with a machine lease arrangement with a vending operator. The machines required a lot of repairs, and she didn’t think they were energy efficient.
Three years ago, Pisanick purchased two snack machines and four Alpine machines after coming across Vend-ucation at a school nutrition association meeting. She likes the modern look of the machines, and the fact that they have LED lighting, due to the district’s commitment to energy efficiency.
The machines were retrofitted with bar code readers. The bar coded student ID cards offered access to the student lunch account balance that was already active in the cafeteria through the school’s POS system.
However, Pisanick said the kids learned how to make their own bar code cards and were able to get free products. She has since switched to biometric identification for the pre-funded lunch POS system and to cash for the vending machines. She is presently exploring biometric payments for vending.
An Ohio state law effective last July and previous health and wellness mandates provide nutrition rules for school vending machines. Pisanick has removed all noncompliant beverages and high sodium and high fat snacks. The sales initially took a hit, but they have since recovered as kids got used to the new products, Pisanick noted.
Schools boost vending’s image
School officials nationwide are beginning to recognize that vending machines, despite their rap as purveryors of unhealthy food, are a useful tool in not only making food more accessible to kids, but in providing the type of food they want kids to have.
The end result will be a population of consumers who are comfortable using vending machines and associate vending machines with nutritious foods and beverages.