I’m sure it’s because I live in rural Ohio, but I had no clue you could find fresh-cut fruits and vegetables in vending machines these days. I mean, whatever happened to that petrified Twinkie or rock-hard Snickers?
Change. That’s what happened to some of the vending machine fare, and I think it’s a good thing.
We’re all a little more health conscious these days. But we run into a brick wall when faced with the standard snack options in offices, or while traveling, or in schools or anyplace there’s a vending machine. We might get lucky with pistachios or a granola bar once in awhile, but potato chips, candy bars, fruit pies, Pop-Tarts cookies are the typical selections.
In the U.S., there are about 7 million vending machines in the field, with most installations in the workplace. And it’s a retail outlet agriculture shouldn’t ignore — it’s a $35 billion industry. (In 2006, enough snacks were sold to feed every person in the world almost twice, according to the National Automatic Merchandising Association.)
The obstacles of adding perishable produce to a machine may seem insurmountable, and they aren’t small: inventory, distribution, shelf life, waste, stocking, and risk. But in this country, where there’s a market, there’s a way.
For example, HUMAN Healthy Vending machines can control perishability through computerized technology. If something is past its freshness window, the machine won’t allow it to be purchased.
California-based Fresh Healthy Vending already has 2,000 machines in place that offer yogurt, Fuji apple slices, and baby carrots. Likewise, Vend Natural in Maryland now has more than 600 refrigerated vending machines in 22 states, according to a recent article in Produce Business.
They’re not the only game in town, either.
Obviously, form and packaging have a lot to do with the practicality and reality of many machines. You may find dried fruit instead of fresh fruit, applesauce in a squeeze pouch, or a fruit cup instead of whole fruit. Still, fresh fruit and vegetables are already out there in some of those snack machines, and more will follow.
What worker wouldn’t love to have a salad vending machine in their factory or office?
The dairy industry put some dollars into the milk vending machines to get them on the market, and perhaps that’s an option for the fruit and vegetable growers to consider.
Food purists don’t like vending machines, period, so there are still those who think the option of selecting produce from a vending machine is only slightly better than that Twinkie.
I say in the real world, we’re all going to reach for those packaged peanut butter crackers sooner or later. If I’ve got a healthier snack option, I’ll take it.
Any time we can increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables, we win — both from a health and an agricultural production (hello, demand?) standpoint.
By Susan Crowell