Problems with Having Vending Machines in School

Schools are a wonderful vending market. There is heavy repeat foot traffic, the children have disposable income, and the school building provides a captive market. School districts rely heavily on the revenue produced by vending machines, so they are willing and welcoming customers. As of 2004, 74% of all middle and high schools in the United States had vending machines on the premises.

            However, school vending has come under heavy fire and may face federal regulation in upcoming years. Some states are already enacting legislation to restrict the types of food that can be sold in school vending machines.

            Child-hood obesity is a growing problem in our nation. Children have become sedentary and they eat more junk food than any past generation.  Many people feel that making junk food available to children at school is not responsible. 

Schools need to practice the nutrition principles that they teach by only offering foods that are healthy and nutritious.  The 2004 study conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) found that 75% to 85% of foods and beverages offered in school vending machines fell into the “junk food” category.

Clearly conflicts of interest exist.  Schools and vending companies want to tap into the lucrative school vending market, but it cannot be done at the expense of the children’s health.  Presently there is pressure to for school administrators and machine operators to voluntarily change the school vending market. In the future, the USDA will most likely expand their regulation of school lunches to affect all food sold at school, including vending machine products. 

The good news is that the CSPI study found that schools who switched to healthier vending options did not show revenue losses. The study considers “low-fat
chips, pretzels, crackers, Chex Mix, fruits, vegetables, granola bars, cereal bars, nuts, trail mix, low-fat cookies, and other low-fat baked goods, water, fruit juice containing at least 50% real juice, low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk (regular or flavored), and diet drinks” to be acceptably healthy foods & beverages for school vending machines.  Children adapted quickly to these changes and did not curb their vending machine expenditures.

A particular niche in the school vending machine market may be refrigerated machines that dispense fruits and vegetables.  Less than .5% of the vending machines in schools offer fresh fruits and vegetables.  At the same time, children are not getting enough servings of these food groups.  Less than 15% of grade school children are eating the recommended allowance of fruits and vegetables per day.  Since it has been proven that the children will buy what is provided in the vending machines without loss of revenue related to the change of contents, it makes sense to provide them with the fresh fruits and vegetables that they need. 

In summary, to stay on the good side of public opinion and upcoming regulations, stock school vending machines with healthy offerings.  A good vending array for a school would be one beverage machine stocked with soda alternatives; a refrigerated vending machine dispensing fresh fruits and vegetables, and a snack machine dispensing trail mix, pretzels, granola bars, etc.  Using such an approach you may even be able to take over territories occupied by companies using a traditional vending approach within your desired school districts.