Q: Tell me about your views on NAMA’s Public Health Commitment.
A: I have thoughts on that from a business standpoint and as a consumer who tries to eat healthier. As a consumer myself, I'm extremely excited about it, because the more healthy options there are, the easier it is to lead a healthier lifestyle. My wife and I have been trying to eat healthy for the last 30 years, and it's become immensely easier.
Just yesterday, I was with a customer, and he shared with me that his wife became a vegetarian about a year ago, so he became a vegetarian, too. He said they both really want to eat healthier, but when you travel, it's hard. So that led us naturally into a conversation about the NAMA Public Health Commitment. As an industry, we always have to address what the consumer’s needs are. We want the same thing every industry wants: We're all fighting for that consumer dollar, and we're all fighting for that consumer preference. We want to be their preference, their solution for food, snacks and beverage choices. The only way we can do that is if we're recognizing the trends and providing those products as quick as, if not quicker than, the other industries.
Q: Why is NAMA’s public health commitment important for the industry and, also, why is this important for consumers?
A: There have been a lot of enlightening and enjoyable things in my time of being associated with NAMA, but the biggest part of that is trying to look out to the future. We're trying to look out for potential threats and opportunities for our industry.
That's what got the NAMA board looking at this initiative. This isn't a question of, is the consumer going to want healthier products? The consumer has already decided. In my opinion, part of what our industry has had to battle through was critical mass. My wife and I started trying to eat healthier 30 years ago. That was a tough road, even in the grocery store, to buy those kinds of products. But when you started traveling and eating in restaurants or out of vending machines, the options just weren't there.
The consumer wants to eat healthier, and the industry tries to respond by putting products out, but they didn't have the volume. We are now reaching that critical mass where there's enough people in the workplace who are truly going to eat this way. Whether we provide it to them or not, they're not going to let us dictate how they eat because there are too many other places they can get it, and they'll gladly go somewhere else to find what they're looking for, or they'll go online and have what they want delivered to them in their workplace. The consumer is more educated, and what they're looking for has changed.
When asked operators what they are selling today, and 24% of the items being offered — almost one-fourth — already met the standards of what the Public Health Commitment is. Now, what we're talking about, is going from one-fourth to one-third. That's a jump, but it's achievable. We made the commitment over a three-year period, but in the next five to 10 years, I believe that by giving the consumer what they want, it will be greater than 33%. This is here to stay. This is no longer a trend; this is now a way of life. And that's what I think we all need to understand.
Q: As a longtime leader of the association, in your view, why is this the right time to move forward on a broad scale public commitment like this?
A: If you go back to the history of the association, it was around 2005 when NAMA launched FitPick. The consumer demand for this started 20 years ago; we heard what the consumer was saying, and we came out with FitPick. That helped a lot of operators understand what types of products they needed. But what was still missing at that point was the critical mass, or enough of the people in the workplace to justify taking a slot. There's that balance between trying to make everyone happy, and the physical space you've got to work with, and you've got to support the masses.
This commitment is good for everybody — everybody wins. When you think about what's happening in our competing channels — convenience stores, retail grocery, online shopping — they have really focused on better-for-you. Look at Whole Foods; the entire store is centered around better-for-you products. We’re recognizing that we need to give the consumer what they want and be in a preferred position. So, when they think about being healthy, they can go to the vending machine and the micro market because we have the products they want, and we're the most convenient source of getting them.
Q: Collaboration is important in making public health commitments successful. The Partnership for a Healthier America and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation — two leading health organizations — have provided their support. Tell me about this.
A: When NAMA first started looking at this, we realized that if we were going to take this initiative on, it had to be validated to make sure we’re helping to aim people in the right direction. There are so many different definitions of what is healthier, so we knew we needed to work with professionals to help guide us.
So that's how we got involved with Partnership for a Healthier America and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, and that list is going to expand. We're using this information to help us and the operators make the best decisions. It was important to have their support to show the government that this industry takes our customers' needs and wants very seriously, and we take trying to be a good steward of society very seriously.