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Issue Date: Vol. 53, No. 1, January 2013, Posted On: 1/25/2013


Healthier Vending


Tim Sanford
Editor@vendingtimes.net
TAGS: healthy vending, Healthier Vending, Tim Sanford, Vending Times editorial, vending operator, junk food, vending myths, vending industry, healthier vending items, snack vending, better for you, vending machine menus, vending machine regulations, nutritional information, micro market, healthy vending promotion, healthy vending biz-op


Over the decades, we've often used this space to remind our readers of the vital role played by trade associations in mobilizing this industry to defend itself against wrong-headed regulations, unjust fees, inequitable taxes and unfounded criticism in the press. An important element in this is effective communications to educate the public and elected officials about the industry and the valuable services it provides.

Most operators always have known, too, that it is bad business to attempt to gain a competitive edge by discrediting other vendors. In every industry, it is sound practice to sell by emphasizing one's strengths, not the supposed deficiencies of rivals; "don't knock the competition" is the classic formula. This is especially important in vending, which is generally done on a "concession" basis and so is not directly in the public eye. Attempting to arouse suspicion of any vending operation carries the real risk of inducing distrust of the whole industry. Reasonable solidarity among operators, fostered by association membership, is an index of vending's health.

It is especially important to keep this in mind today, when public misinformation so readily turns into demands for government action. One example is the allegation, made almost four decades ago, that many popular snack items are "junk food" and that vending machines cause people to consume them.

A lot of space has been devoted to the question of whether any wholesome food item can be considered "junk," and whether it is even possible to say that one item is "better" than another without considering the individual's overall diet and lifestyle. Let us, in the interest of brevity, posit that there is a sense in which (say) kelp is "better" for a majority of average people than (for example) marshmallows. That, of course, would not be a reason to eat nothing but kelp, or never to eat a marshmallow; but it could be a justification for describing the first as "healthier" than the second. as a sort of shorthand.

Now, a vending machine -- or a micromarket, or a convenience store -- can sell kelp, or it can sell marshmallows, or it can sell some of each. The menu will be determined by the outlet's clientele and implemented by its operator. This being so, there is no justification for describing the outlet itself as "healthy" or otherwise, however one might categorize the menu.

This brings us to the question of "healthy vending." If used as a shorthand for "vending machines stocked with the items that its clientele think of as better for them than the typical vending menu," the term has some descriptive value. But there is no warrant for calling the vending machine or the service "healthy."

Thus, selling a "healthy vending" program means selling a vending program in which machines are stocked with products that conform to the strictures of the present enthusiasm, with few or none that don't. As long as everyone understands this, all is well, and customers have a better chance of receiving the products and the service they want.

We think, though, that it is very important to avoid selling "healthy vending" programs as inherently different from, and superior to, some supposed traditional or lower-class vending norm. There always is a danger of devising a marketing approach that reduces one's future options, painting one into a corner.

We have pointed this out about micromarkets: they are a wonderful addition to a vending operation's toolbox, and can be offered to qualified locations as a new, sophisticated approach to meeting their specific needs. But it is short-sided, and potentially suicidal, to offer them as somehow better than vending. Things change, and it may be difficult to "unsell" a client whose needs evolve in such a way that vending is a more feasible solution.

Similarly, we think most operators today should be aware of the philosophical and aesthetic principles held by that (substantial) segment of customers who seek out "healthier" items, and should be familiar enough with those beliefs to suggest products that conform to them. As retailers, it is the business of operators to find out what their customers want, and then provide it.

It is one thing to phrase one's proposal as, "We can offer you a complete variety of the products your [employees, visitors, guests] want and like, with fast, responsive and professional service." No one could argue with that, and it is the sort of value proposition that always finds favor. It is quite another to say, "We do 'healthy' vending, and nobody else does." This also is shortsighted and potentially suicidal; things do change, and if some new hypothesis links kelp with toenail fungus, an operation that has defined itself as the only kelp game in town will be in for trouble.

Everyone in the vending business has a vital interest in the health of the industry as a whole. Above all else, this involves a regard for the public's perception of the industry as a whole. It is always permissible to assert that one does something more satisfactorily than one's competitors. It is never a good idea to imply that one's competitors are impairing public health.


Topic: Editorial: Vending

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