Sirness Vending Services Inc. of Gates, NY is one of the largest vending machine companies in upstate New York. It handles about 2,000 machines of all stripes — soda, candy, chips, sandwiches, a familiar lineup, generally, of familiar choices.
Still, company general manager Tom Bach sees changes in the world of vending-machine food.
For years, government has been demanding that school districts eschew sugary soda and candy in favor of healthier choices, both in prepared meals for students and in vending machines. Businesses, too, want more choices in the machines set up in common rooms or break areas.
The U.S. Agriculture Department has effectively prohibited the sale of food like candy, cookies and sugary drinks, including sports drinks, in schools. The idea is to make it more difficult to avoid cafeteria meals by eating junk food out of vending machines.
When schools open next fall, vending machines will have to offer such things as whole wheat crackers, granola bars and dried fruits.
In the Rochester area, there is a corresponding effort, led by Wegmans Food Markets, to promote the idea of health and wellness to counter the alarming rise of obesity and diabetes.
When, in 2010, Bach saw some Wegmans products in a machine, the thought of a partnership was formed. “I thought, wouldn’t it be great if Sirness and Wegmans worked together on putting vending machines out there with healthy items, as a way to give people a choice,” Bach said.
The connections were made. Wegmans liked the idea and, looking ahead to the 2011 school year, the company and Sirness created machines emblazoned with the Wegmans name. They carried an array of salads and organic juices and fruit. They were set up in a few public schools in the Rochester area and some public venues, such as The Strong museum. Most of the products, then and now, carry the Wegmans brand.
“The machines were popular,” Bach said. “They worked well as a choice for people. They weren’t stuck with the usual things.”
Eighteen such machines are now in operation in the Rochester area — some in schools, others in public areas and businesses. “This is growing,” Bach said. “We have companies interested.”
There is a national trend percolating here. For years, vending machine choice involved picking one type of potato chip over another. Now, offering distinctly different kinds of food is gaining favor. A California company, Fresh Healthy Vending, is creating a franchise network. There are others, too.
Wegmans spokesperson Jo Natale said the partnership with Sirness is a good match with the grocer’s overall wellness initiative.
The supermarket chain several years ago started the “Eat Well, Live Well” campaign that encourages the public and other companies to emphasize smart eating choices and physical exercise as ways to control weight and develop fitness.
“This dovetails really well with our other wellness efforts,” Natale said. “There is a demand out there.”
Bach said his goal is not to have the Wegmans “healthy” vending machines supplant existing choices. It is rather to complement what’s already available.
“It’s about choice for people,” Bach said.
Source: Tom Tobin, writer