Grass Roots Movement Brings Healthy Vending To Minnesota School; Are We As An Industry On Board With Our New Relevance?

In researching my article on school vending for the May Automatic Merchandiser, I came across a situation that demonstrates the important role that today’s versatile vending machines are playing in people’s lives, particularly young people. I couldn’t help but wonder how many vending industry members recognize the difference their industry can make.

I also wondered if there isn’t some way vending operators can take advantage of the growing interest in vending among both students and school officials.

The article on school vending in the May Automatic Merchandiser reports that foodservice directors are finding vending machines helpful in promoting nutrition. In the course of my research, I learned about a school where a student, not the staff, got the ball rolling to bring a healthy vending machine to the school.

Crystal Suiter, a student at Madelia High School in Madelia, Minn., discovered the need for a vending machine after she surveyed the student body while campaigning for student council president. The school once had vending machines, but removed them over health concerns. The kids missed having the convenience of a vending machine.

Based on the survey results, Suiter promised a healthy vending machine if she were elected. After being elected, she researched school vending on the Internet.

She learned what machines were available, then spearheaded a fund raising drive to buy a machine.

The machine, which is only accessible outside of meal periods, offers chips, fruit snacks, milk, juice, yogurt, apples, caramel dip and sandwiches. It does an average $86 per day in sales with a gross profit margin of 55 percent.

The machine, a U-Select-It Alpine ST 5000, has not only been a source of healthy refreshments for kids. It has been an educational experience. The kids have learned how to read and understand nutrition labels on food.

Students also manage the machine. They have learned how to set up accounts with food purveyors and work with all the different businesses involved.

Kids are also intrigued by the machine’s technology. They were interested to learn they can add a finger scanner, a card reader and even add a frozen satellite.

All of this came about because a student wanted to do something to improve her fellow students’ lives.

When I learned about this situation at Madelia High School, it reinforced the National Automatic Merchandising Association (NAMA) research last year that reported how receptive young people are to vending. It also reminded me of the positive response by thousands of young people to NAMA’s Gratitude Tours.

Are we as an industry aware of the ways our products and services can change people’s lives? Are we as an industry doing everything we can to make vending machines available to schools?