We at HUMAN have known that sales from healthy vending machines could far surpass sales from junk-food vending machines, but it’s great to see more tangible third-party proof.
In 2010, the Chicago Park District, the largest municipal park system in the United States (580 parks and 260 field houses covering more than 8,100 acres), set specific rules for what could be sold in the vending machines on park property. The rules, similar to the USDA’s Smart Snacks In School rules (which govern what can be sold at any school that participates in federal meal programs), require the following per item sold:
No more than 250 kcal per serving;
No more than 42 g of added sweetener per 20 oz;
No more than 35% of kcal from fat (with the exception of seeds and nuts);
No more than 10% of kcal from saturated fat;
No trans fats;
No more than 35% total weight from sugar and caloric sweeteners (natural fruit juice allowed);
No more than 400 mg of sodium per serving;
At least 5 items must contain less than 250 mg of sodium per serving;
No more than 2 servings per package.
The CDC reports that a park district staff member, who is also a registered dietitian, “led the development of nutrition standards, which are based on guidelines from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG) and the American Heart Association (AHA)”
A study by Northwestern University researchers released earlier this month reports:
88 percent of Chicago park-goers reported enjoying the healthy vending machine options
98 percent of Chicago park-goers indicated they would purchase the snacks again
Sales increased. The healthier snacks boosted average monthly per-machine sales by more than 400% (from $84 to $371).
Based on the success of this initiative, we think it’s important to draw attention to the 5 Things Chicago Parks Did Right:
1. Understood Each Location/Geographic Region is Different
Every location is different–whether its a particular geographic region or a specific location (school, YMCA, gym, office, etc.)–and should be treated that way. This is why HUMAN Healthy Vending franchisees host sampling events before they launch at a new location. Creating a rapport with future consumers while also gaining their feedback is vital to the success of any food-procurement effort.
From the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the study:
…the top-selling item at each park varied. In some neighborhoods, Atheno’s baked pita chips were the top-selling item, but in other neighborhoods the chips didn’t sell at all.
“Each community really has a different flavor,” said Lammel-Harmon, the district’s wellness director.
2. Required All Options to be Healthy
We’ve found in our school locations that it’s always an easier transition to healthy snacking when consumers don’t have to choose between a junk-food item and a healthy option. If you only provide healthy options, consumers will only purchase healthy items. We like to say, “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”
From the Chicago Tribune’s coverage of the study:
“People are going to buy something, regardless, when they’re hungry,” said Northwestern University’s Maryann Mason, one of the study’s main researchers. “When you have a mix of healthy and less healthy items they might be reluctant to try something new, but in this case all the choices are healthier” [source].
3. Had a Well-Rounded Mix of Products
Chicago Parks’ vending machines had a well-round mix of healthy products. Unfortunately, this is still something typical vending operators don’t realize is important. For example, check out the following picture posted via Twitter of a disgruntled student who did not like the slim selection in her now-Smart-Snacks-In-School-compliant vending machine:
4. Systematized Ordering to Ensure Compliance with Nutritional Guidelines
Chicago Parks organized a way to order products so that it took the guesswork out of the process and ensured that all products placed into the vending machines met their healthy standards. This also gave the city additional purchasing power, which allowed them to access lower prices on the products and pass those savings down to the consumer.
5. Gathered Feedback & Metrics
Chicago Parks made a smart move by tracking all relevant metrics related to this program. How else could they assess what worked and what didn’t? This is one of the things HUMAN franchisees are trained to do exceptionally well. With remote monitoring and innovative tracking software, franchisees can assess how to optimize their business.
Chicago Parks’ model proves that healthy vending is not only a smart nutrition decision, it’s also a viable financial move.
To read the entire peer-reviewed study, which published in the August 2014 issue of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s monthly journal, “Preventing Chronic Disease,” please click here.
If you would like to learn how HUMAN’s Healthy Vending franchisees implement Chicago’s same successful strategies to improve their communities, download our guide here:
Annabel Adams is a Los Angeles-based writer and the blogger behind Feed Me, I'm Cranky where she tackles food and obesity politics. To fuel her barefoot running and powerlifting, Annabel loves to snack on anything vegan she can get her hands on. Annabel has been featured in Cosmopolitan, Fitness, Health, and Redbook magazines.