Sunday, October 24, 2010

Smoke Free and Vending Machine Free

I just read The Great Banana Challenge in the WSJ and I’m left thinking, why bother? We have a pretty comprehensive wellness program in our office and we tried putting some healthier snacks in our vending machines and they didn't sell. Why? People who eat healthy generally bring their food from home, they plan ahead, they don't make many impulsive vending machine purchases. What's one of the first things people are taught in a nutrition education program? -- carry healthy snacks with you and stash some at your desk. There are Lara Bars in my purse and containers of flax seed and cinnamon at my desk to stir into the plain greek yogurt I bring from home. I can't tell you the last time I bought food from a vending machine (and the last time I did, I'm sure I wanted something junky I don't normally keep around).

The article in the WSJ also mentions the price of the fresh fruits and vegetables -- $2.50 for a banana. OK, I can't imagine wanting a banana so bad that I'd pay $2.50 for it. Actually, I can't imagine wanting a banana at all since Kristin Wood ruined them for me during our Eat Like an Athlete program. When is it appropriate to eat a banana? -- after completing a marathon or century bike ride. So, for me, that's never. But, I digress.

Has anyone asked whether people that eat fresh fruits and vegetables want to get them from a machine? I enjoy picking out a variety of fresh apples at the farm market, but a red delicious apple in a vending machine holds no appeal to me. Or maybe the question is, will people that eat out of a vending machine buy fresh produce if it's available?

I've been looking on line to see if someone has developed a profile of who purchases food from a vending machine. There has been quite a bit of research done on vending machines in schools, but nothing I've found about vending machines in workplaces. Although it looks like the National Automatic Merchandising Association is conducting somesurveys now. According to this literature review,33.8% of vending machines were in office environments in 2006.

As it stands, why do we even have vending machines in our office? They're full of food we don't want our staff to eat and it's the vending machine company that's making money on the sales. If we took them out all together, people would at least have to walk across the street to buy a bag of chips and they'd get some exercise.

We're a smoke free property. How about a junk food vending machine free property too?


fran melmed said...

janet, i'm also curious whether any focus groups or other form of listening have been done to figure out how people think of fruits & veggies dispensed from a vending machine. it seems logical that there would be less interest in purchasing them in this format, since most of us must equate vending machines with long shelf life. seems like designing the cafeteria to up fruit/salad purchases and bringing in healthy vending machine options is a strong place to start.


Cliff N said...

I agree that fruit would be a tough sell--I would rather get my fruit from a bowl than a machine. Probably has to do with not being able to handle it to insure quality.

I would say that you can’t be 50% healthy in a vending machine--that is a mix of healthy/ non healthy snacks. The non-healthy will always win out in a weak moment.

We have a healthy vending machine at our office--its refrigerated and stocked with better for you snacks options-low sugar yogurt, string cheese, baked chips and even 100 calorie snack packs and bars. It’s a staple in our office-

-Cliff N

Carol Harnett said...

Hi Janet,

I read your post last night and then again this morning.

There are a lot of elements in your post with which I agree. But, let me make this personal as you did, and share something from my life.

My career requires me to travel a lot. It always has. And, yes, I, too, travel with an array of healthy food options. When I want food, I'm usually hungry and fast food/junk food/even great chocolate, doesn't do it for me when I need nourishment.

But there are simply some days when I'm sick of packing provisions. After all, I'm not going on a trek through the desert. I'm just going to work or a client's office or on a plane. And, I travel so much, I can't always make it to the regular market, never mind the farm market...and I live in farm country.

So, yes, sometimes I find myself standing in front of a vending machine trying to find something to eat that will somewhat nourish me. More often than not, I've had to choose the tuna in a can with crackers despite the fact that it's generally unappealing to me. But what are you going to do at 7 pm at night in an almost deserted office where the only food you find on people's desks is candy?

And, I'm not alone. I've encountered plenty of people staring at a vending machine around the same time, desperate for something good...sometimes in addition to the Hershey bar.

But, there is the opposite side of the argument, which is that most people approach a vending machine wanting and expecting chips or candy. Heck, I've done that on occasion. Nothing wrong with that as long as it's not a regular habit. Everything in moderation, I say.

I'll tell you a strategy we did with one employer. We created healthy vending machines with choices that were selected by the employees and put those near the general work areas. We also stocked one vending machine with the usual array of candy and chips and placed that at the farthest reaches of the building. Our theory was that you have to treat people like adults and, yes, at least it was inconvenient and they had to walk there.

The strategy worked pretty well. We found that consumption of food at the healthy machines went up. The vendor told us they were making more money from those machines even though we lowered the prices on the healthy choices. And, yes, people went to the "unhealthy" vending machines, but volume was down.

So, that's too long a post from me.

Know that you made me think and that's always a good thing.

Best wishes,
Carol Harnett

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