It sounds perfect. Make healthy snacks and beverages available to people at work and on the go. That will help them make healthier lifestyle choices. However, when we dig deeper we find that meeting the demand for healthy grab-and-go products in micro markets has a number of challenges. First and foremost is defining what is "healthy." According to Merriam-Webster, healthy is an adjective that means "beneficial to one's physical, mental, or emotional state." It does not include a set of parameters about fat, artificial ingredients, calories, wheat, protein or other element. With such a vague definition when it comes to items we eat, it's hard to meet the expectation. However, there is a starting point, and that is the customer themselves.
"What is healthy is the first question that we ask a customer," said Mickal McMath who is in charge of new business development at M&M Sales Co. A canteen franchise based in Lafayette, LA, M&M Sales has been in the vending industry for 40 years. When it entered micro markets there were many customers looking for healthier products, but none quite had the same expectation of what that meant. "It became obvious there are just as many 'definitions' of healthy as there are people in a location," said McMath. "We as a company strive to create an open dialogue with our customers about their expectations about healthy."
The dialogue lets M&M Sales create a solution unique to the location whether it is more fresh items, natural and organic snacks, or something else. When the location doesn't provide a clear set of expectations for healthy, but still wants a healthy micro market, M&M Sales uses standards already set in place by the government. "We have started to use some of the guidelines from state and local 'healthy' lists," said McMath. "That includes approved products for school vending."
By having a more standard definition for certain healthy products, M&M Sales is better able to gauge interest and velocity. Based on sales, the company can better understand what the end user wants in healthy micro market products and offer SKUs accordingly.
Market the new items
In addition to working with locations on what they expect of a healthy micro market, M&M Sales has also found that it takes time for healthy items to catch on in a location.
"I have said many times that you must inform the customer that the request has been filled and allow them time to try it out," said McMath. He sees people so often put something new in a micro market and then pull it out in a few weeks because it didn't sell. "Customers are creatures of habit and many times they go into a market to get their fix. We try to move things around to make the customer 'shop' the market," McMath explained. As customers shop the market, they learn about the healthy and new options and ultimately try it out.
Not an all or nothing
Another take away from having a successful healthy micro market is that the entire micro market does not have to be healthy. Nor does an operator need to put in a healthy micro market at every location. For M&M Sales, the healthy category in micro markets constitutes just 1.5 percent of overall sales. Still, it's a great selling feature, especially when some locations want 50 percent or more healthy products in their markets. McMath finds it works best when the location is willing to subsidize the healthy items, which ends up promoting those items to the end user. "This is the best-case scenario for the operator," he added. M&M Sales has around 10 locations that offer subsidized healthy items in micro markets.
The majority of locations have not made the move to healthy yet, admits McMath. M&M Sales has about 15 to 20 blue collar locations that want a broad range of options that may include healthy items, but with no mandates on a percentage or specific product type. A challenge in the healthy segment of micro markets is fulfilling the request at more locations without a standard definition. "As our portfolio of markets expands, we find it more and more difficult to keep up with the demand from customers to offer and in turn fulfill the request for healthy. This is not for the lack of trying, but more so because the customer as well as the end user all have different meaning for healthy," explained McMath.
While diet and health fads have come and gone in the industry, this move of grab-and-go products supporting a healthier lifestyle is here to stay. Between government regulations and financial rewards from insurance companies, healthy is the new buzzword for foodservice. With some work, micro markets can certainly be part of the solution.