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Apr 21, 2016
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NAMA OneShow Learnings: Does the Vending Industry Have An Obesity Problem? Public Health Community Unites Against Global Obesity Epidemic

This guest piece was written by Emily F. Porro

While the theme of offering healthier, more nutritious snacks was discussed in several sessions at the NAMA OneShow in Chicago last week, the “Nutrition/Health/Wellness: Trends and Opportunities in 2016 and Beyond” session featuring Bill Layden, partner at Foodminds, offered even more serious concerns by the global public health community — specifically, the role of snacks sold in vending machines in relation to rising global obesity rates. According to Mr. Layden, coming regulations may impact purchase behavior as well as dictate the kinds of foods and beverages that will be sold through vending machines in the near future.

According to an analysis by The Lancet presented by Mr. Layden, today, 2.1 billion people – or nearly 30 percent of the world’s population – are either obese or overweight. The U.S. in particular finds itself with two-thirds of its’ population overweight or obese with a great number of people moving from overweight, to obese, to morbidly obese; with the number of children and adolescents who are overweight or obese having increased 50 percent between 1980 and 2013.

Not surprisingly, these statistics have not only caught the eye of regulators in the U.S., but those of global leaders as well. In response, they have organized behind finding a solution to this world epidemic, and have committed to prioritize action.

According to Mr. Layden, the vending machine industry in particular has captured the attention of decision makers, who in turn have initiated research to determine the role snacks and sugary beverages play with regards to increasing obesity rates. A recent study published by FASEB Journal found that soft drinks, candies, salty grain snacks, potato chips, and cookies collectively, accounted for approximately 67 percent of all calories consumed from vending machines. Calories from added sugars accounted for nearly half of total energy intake from vending. This was based on a study of 15,701 adults who reported using a vending machine the day of the study between 2006–2012.

According to the Snack Food Association, 74 percent of consumers “are trying to eat healthier,” while 65 percent eat specific foods with weight loss in mind, a stat we cited in our recent blog, “Cashless, Healthy Vending Go Hand in Hand. However, even as programs like Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign, and Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s support for the Soda Ban limiting soft drink size in New York City discourage consumption of foods higher in sodium, calories, sugars and saturated fat, most consumers still ignore dietary guidelines.

“The issue growing from a public health standpoint is that the recognition of just telling people what to eat to be healthier isn’t working. The emphasis now is on changing policy and environment to change composition of food supply or access to certain foods,” said Mr. Layden, who continued on to say that not offering sugary beverages, or implementing programs providing encouragements and discouragement through taxes are rolling out globally.

Countries are aligning with nutrition science activists to build evidence with policies that are working in one country, in order to replicate it in others. Implementing these policies could initiate new taxes, create restrictions to the access of unhealthy foods, and change federal funding. In Mexico, for example, regulators have issued a tax on “junk food’ including sugar sweetened beverages, and have started to see early positive outcomes.

The United States has also been pushing similar legislation, such as California’s pending “soda tax” which would charge two-cents-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, as well as recently passed legislation in New York requiring chain restaurants to post warning labels next to menu items that contain high levels of sodium.

The vending community is already seeing new regulations come into play. One example is The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) provision requiring that vending machine operators with more than 20 machines enable prospective purchasers to examine the Nutrition Facts Panel before purchasing, in order to satisfy provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA). The nutrition guidelines are still being hashed out, and although initially were supposed to take effect in 2016, have been pushed back to 2017. According to Mr. Layden, the current administration wants a legacy of health and wellness, and we can expect to see big changes before this year’s conventions, including finalized regulations on reforming nutritional facts panels and more.

While policy changes, regulations and reform coming to the snack industry could seem disruptive, preparing for and embracing these coming changes can be both rewarding as well as lucrative.

Mr. Layden offered the following advice for business owners in the vending industry:

“Consumers want food when they want food, whenever and wherever. But companies should expect a growing part of consumers who are health and environmentally conscious and demanding transparency to impose a different values on the industry. The opportunities lie in combining convenience in a way that harnesses nutrition, health and wellness. Helping consumers make those choices can be helpful for business and public health.”

The self-serve retail industry should also consider the role of cashless payments on the sale of healthy snacks. Frances McMath, co-owner of Louisiana-based M&M Sales Company was committed to offering healthier choices for consumers, but the company’s current group of core consumers still craved sweets and salty snacks. Upon further analysis, she discovered that in her region, people who carried cash represented an older generation with expectations rooted in “old-school” vending and were not attracted to the healthier choices. However, consumers who wanted the healthier choices were primarily young, health conscious, increasingly female individuals who didn’t carry cash.The company committed to outfitting 2,500 of its machines with cashless acceptance technology and within the first 90 days, M&M’s same-store sales rose by 22 percent

As McMath says, “Vending has changed. It needs to be fun, it needs to be interesting, it needs to be healthy – and it STILL needs to be quick and easy.” See more about her story featured on a recent blog here

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Emily F. Porro is a writer and blogger focusing on people, products, services and technology driving global innovation across industries.

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