Healthy Hospitality

June 5, 2018

I have written at least two blogs, and a few articles on the idea of healthy as it relates to this industry. To summarize, healthy is a double-edged word. On the one hand, it represents a growing consumer market trend. People everywhere are clamoring for healthy, corporations are adding health and wellness initiatives and consumers have started associating new(er) words with their food, i.e. fresh, natural, clean label, gluten-free, low carb, keto, paleo, etc. This represents an opportunity to sell more products. It also presents circumstances where new products that are not universally in demand go stale in the warehouse. New regulations and requirements by businesses of 100 percent healthy items, create a need for new products in vending machines, micro markets and breakrooms. When consumers come to buy, but don't see the options they expect (or want), they go elsewhere. This reduces sales, and could ultimately put operators out of business altogether. Or, a shift to all healthy items are a calling for the industry to be part of a nation-wide education campaign that teaches consumers about nutrition and ingredients, highlighting healthier products. The opponents struggle to see the business case for healthy. The debate over healthy as it relates to the vending, micro market and office coffee service industry continues.  

Lingering resentment 

Part of the problem, I am sorry to say, is that there was a miscommunication early on with some operators. I know of several examples, where a school vending contract was ignored, or broken, by the location when it allowed a healthy branded vending machine on premise without consulting the vending service provider. Healthy really had nothing to do with the breach of contract, any vending machine on premise would have been in violation. However, in these cases, it was a machine branded healthy, which upset long-time operators. 

Because I believe in representing both sides, let's not dismiss the goals of the healthy vending segment who are business people looking for an opportunity to share the types of products they believe in. While writing the article "Inside the healthy vending business" a few years ago, I talked to several operators who had the same concerns, issues and struggles as the independent operators I normally spoke with - the only difference was that they were trying to sell premium items that were carried more often in health food stores than convenience stores. They did not wittingly violate contracts, as that leads to lawsuits and bad feelings. They were concerned with product sourcing, stales, merchandising and other challenges any operator would recognize.   

Finding that place in the middle  

Personally, I think connecting on the similarities in experience is the only way to unite over a consumer trend that shows no sign of abating. This month we broke from tradition and profiled a smaller operator in Cleveland who is a self-professed healthy operator, who carries both healthier and more traditional products. Read about how Patrick Connaughton balances his goals with demands from his customers on page 26.  

I have also been approached by a growing number of healthy-centric operators both to discuss opportunities and as part of surveys and routine editorial information gathering. They are a growing number of the readers of both Automatic Merchandiser and, something I note in the state of the industry report on page 32.  

Does this answer the question of whether merging can happen? I hope so. Compromise may not be easy, but if successful, it leads to a better outcome for all. By healthy being incorporated into the industry as part of the industry, it will help the entire industry succeed.