Healthy As The New Normal

May 30, 2017

Healthy snacking, once considered a possible fad, is now becoming more prevalent nationwide among American snackers. According to a report from Nielson, food purchases are becoming less driven by what is displayed on the front of the box than what is listed as ingredients. Natural, healthier foods are proving that they are here to stay, encouraging vending and micro market operators to re-think their inventory in order to meet these evolving demands and expectations.  

In a recent blog, Bill Cioni, president of Technivend in Wilmington, MA, addressed the opportunity of healthy snacks in both the vending and micro market segments. He wrote, “Healthy Vending….for many vendors this is an oxymoron. For others, it’s an opportunity. It is not a fad but a trend, a way of life for many. Unfortunately, most of the old time vending companies still remember the “good ole days” when healthy didn’t sell. Some of these operators figure it out, but a lot don’t. Micro markets have been a great help showing vending machine operators that healthy does sell. Yet, the product transition from micro markets to their vending machines fall short.” 

Instead of viewing healthy programs as just another cost, figuring out how healthier snacks can set you apart by addressing this widespread trend will offer greater sales opportunities.   

What to offer 

When starting to incorporate healthy snacks, Michael Ray of Healthy Generation Vending in Houston, TX suggests a ratio of 10 percent of healthier items and then adjusting to meet demand. In both his vending and micro markets, Healthy Generation Vending uses the same process to determine the product mix, relying heavily on customer behavior and feedback.  

“We try to increase the healthy percentage as much as possible because the demand is there and it’s a market that we do not want to miss. We believe it is the future,” he said. Miller explains there is a natural “lag” from "new to market" and "new to the vending market.” Items he recently introduced successfully include: That’s It Bars, Sargento Balanced Breaks, Snapple Straight Up Tea bottled beverages, Boulder Canyon All Natural Chips, Frito Lay’s SunChips and Smartfood Popcorn. 

Randy Miller of Kimble’s Food in LaGrange, GA, employs a similar strategy for incorporating healthier items into his vending and micro market programs. “We do not have a given percentage for vending nor micro markets,” he explained. “The customer dictate's what we offer.” 

In Miller’s experience, fat-free and sugar-free products perform best, while micro markets have proven to be the “easiest” market in which to sell healthy. “You don't have to tie up a whole selection like in a snack machine,” he said. “Instead, you can put two or three products on the shelf in a market.” 

“Demand for healthy options are definitely up in both environments, but because you are not limited by the product size in micro markets, you have many more items to choose from and higher healthy item sales,” added Miller. 

Millennial snacking habits 

Earlier this year, a national study conducted by Amplify Snack Brands, Inc. and the Center for Generational Kinetics, both based in Austin, TX, determined that Millennials have been the main driving force behind the growth of the better-for-you snack category. As a result, thanks to these health conscious and influential consumers, healthy snacks are now sought after by a mainstream audience.  

Responding to Millennials’ desire for healthy snacks, colleges across the country have been re-thinking their traditional vending machine offerings. The University of Nebraska at Kearney has been working to add healthier vending snacks that contain less sugar and fewer calories than typical vending machine options. University officials also plan to keep prices of the healthier snacks identical to more typical vending snacks. On the West Coast at Contra Costa College in San Pablo, CA, professors and administrative staff petitioned for healthier food options in campus vending machines late last year. The petition, sent to the college's president, was started after English department faculty and staff raised concerns for a lack of nutritional items offered to students in vending machines, linking how sugary snacks are correlated to negative health issues and poor classroom performance 

As Millennials age, they also are influencing future generations. The study found that 69 percent of Millennial moms say their kids understand that some snacks are healthier than others and 55 percent say their kids are more likely to choose a better-you-snack over another packaged snack.  

“Millennials have set the quality bar high for better-for-you snacks, and consumers deserve nothing less,” stated Tom Ennis, Amplify Snack Brands’ CEO in the study’s news release. “At Amplify, we attribute our success to meeting and exceeding those standards. For our brands, quality is the first and foremost priority in our product development. We always use premium, clean and simple ingredients – nothing artificial, always great tasting, and that will never be sacrificed.”  


Cost remains one of the most common challenges for operators as it can prove difficult to find “true” healthier and clean options at reasonable prices. Spoilage and shrinkage also present costly obstacles. However, this may be improving as healthy snacking trends continue to become prevalent.  

“As consumers buy-in more and more and are willing to spend a little more for clean eating, companies will continue to produce better and better tasting products,” said Miller. “Healthy refreshment options are the future and it is not as hard as it used to be to offer healthier options.” 

Balancing the old and the new also is paramount to meeting an array of customer demands. “The Snickers bar is not going anywhere, but there are new kids on the block in the snack and refreshment arena and they cost a little more, taste pretty great and are better for you,” said Miller. “The consumer still wants an unhealthy treat every once and awhile and there is nothing wrong with that. Our mission is to provide healthy, clean choices along with the traditional items. Choice and balance are the new keys to the refreshment kingdom.” 

Staying current about popular snack trends and new products may also prove to be challenging. Attending industry events, such as NAMA's annual OneShow, offers great opportunities to learn about what's new to the marketplace and get ideas about how to incorporate healthy items into vending and micro market segments. 

Additionally, NAMA’s FitPick program, a healthy vending and micro market labeling program, is designed to help both vending and micro market operators and consumers identify products that satisfy recognized nutrition guidelines. The guidelines are presented in a way that aims to be easy to understand and apply by including information about approved maximum values on calories, fat, sugar and sodium. Currently, there are approximately 665 FitPick- and FitPick SELECT-approved products that are available in vending machines and micro markets, with more products being added each day. For more information about FitPick visit

Natural, wholesome snacks in convenient grab-and-go packages are the new direction of snacking. Healthy is no longer a fad, but part of business as usual.