Why Traditional Snacks Still Drive Vending Sales

Jan. 16, 2013

Operators are constantly getting requests for healthier products from locations. In 2012, VendingMarketWatch reported at least 15 cities that enacted some form of limitation on what snacks could be sold in vending machines, and that doesn't include the public schools restricting vending machine products and operating times, which reach into the hundreds.

While I completely agree with those that say vending and micro market operators need to be proactive in addressing the health concerns of consumers, I also hear operators acknowledge that the sales aren't supporting the consumer requests for these items, at least in vending machines.

Why aren't consumers buying the healthy items from machines in mass numbers? Well, aside from a psychological wisecrack that involves saying vs. doing, I think the answer lies in what consumers expect in a snack.

According to a 2012 report by the Symphony IRI Group, snacking among adults has increased substantially from 2009 to 2012. The majority, 60 percent, snack for enjoyment, not hunger. And 55 percent of consumers admitted they're more likely to eat what tastes good rather than what is healthier.  So a large portion of the population views snacking as an "opportunity to splurge," says the report.

These are average consumers. While one person might make a healthy choice, people as a group are easier to anticipate in aggregate. This is a key piece of the healthy products puzzle. It's why most operators find success with stocking a percentage of the vending machine with healthy products alongside the best selling traditional products. I think operators shouldn't be afraid to show data that tells locations just what people are buying, and what they're not. Show locations why employees are visiting machines, and discuss options to meet the location goals even in other ways. Data from independent research companies, as well as data from vending management software can and should be used for this purpose.

Vending machines have a limited number of slots, and operators should be able to make the most profitable use of them while we all wait for the dream product that both tastes good and is supremely healthy.