Healthy School Vending: Government Regulation Or Freedom To Choose?

An interview with Seden Harrison of SmartSource Vendingbalance-judgement

[powerpress]

You’ve been keeping up with the Federal legislation as it relates to school vending, what are you learning?

A couple months ago the USDA came out with a stringent ruling with a 60-day open opinion on it. The ruling is basically highly controlling of the content on the snacks and drinks served in schools. They are proposing to regulate school stores, ala-carte lines, vending; they say they aren’t touching the fundraising, but the wording says:

“If there are too many fundraisers selling the traditional items, that will be regulated as well.”

It should be about choice, not regulation.

The USDA is focused on the childhood obesity issue in schools and vending seems to be an easy bulls eye. But there are so many other ways students get these items that it seems the wrong approach and too much regulation. The schools don’t want it either and are in favor of choice; they make money on the commissions; they are struggling with many cut backs. They don’t want the regulations to deal with and they don’t want to lose the funds.

Are there places that are benefiting from healthy vending?

I know from personal experience and from the corporate side, people want the choice. It’s good to have the option vs. “I’m told this is all you can have.” When the latter happens, I tend to find what I want elsewhere.

The government has also made a big push to get the calorie disclosure for all products and this might be a good compromise. Most people already know what’s what in terms of nutrition, but if you still don’t know what to pick, here’s all the calorie and nutrition info for each product. All vending machines are moving toward calorie and nutrition disclosure in 2014.

Do we want to be completely 100% healthy vending in a location? Absolutely not. Do we want to provide the choice? Yes.

There are many places where 100% healthy vending has gone into a government location and a year later you read the report that shows sales have plummeted and things aren’t doing that well. What happens to us vendors? It requires us to raise the prices and they don’t sell as fast so we’re dealing with expired product and a loss.

It seems like the government is saying “if you really don’t have other options as a child, you learn to chose what is more healthy.” What do you say about that?

In theory yes, your starving and trapped on an island that has nothing but bananas and coconuts, yeah you’re going to choose the healthy items. But these kids, and I have kids of my own who are teenagers. We are preparing them to go out into the world, especially high school kids, get jobs, join the military, become self sufficient, do you really believe that if you tell them “you can’t have this” that they’re not going to find a way around it?

We’ve already seen this with the American Beverage Association agreement that Coca Cola and Pepsi made. They agreed they would only stock certain types of drinks with less sugar. Sales plummeted, but what happened… kids stopped by QuikTrip before and during school. They find ways to circumvent it.

On top of that you aren’t teaching them anything, the forbidden is always more enticing. When you ban it, they want it even more.

What is the ABA?

The American Beverage Association (a trade organization representing the nonalcoholic beverage industry in the US) worked with Coca Cola and Pepsi to come up with a plan to meet these so-called healthy requirements and in the schools they agreed on the drinks that they will stock.

When this happened, sales went down, the kids found ways around it. And when some kids can’t find a coke classic, they do buy a diet coke – but it’s not solving the problem of obesity. It should be about doing things in moderation.

It’s my job as a parent to deal with obesity, not the government’s and not the school’s job either.

On a federal level, what can a vending operator do to let their voice be heard?

1. Look at the USDA website, especially when they are open for comments on policy from the public.

2. Contact your local representative, their job is to listen to you.

3. NAMA has been very helpful. Eric Dell, senior VP of government affairs, has been right there on the front lines. They can help with communicating with the government. The more operators we have contacting them, the more ammunition that they have at the ground level.

It’s almost understandable to regulate the elementary level students, but high school students? Really?

I have accurate records of sales in the schools we operate in showing what students are purchasing per capita between healthy vs. traditional items and it is not what you think.

When you aren’t in the vending industry it’s not obvious that there’s a business behind a vending machine. Healthy items are more expensive and when a customer asks to stock only healthy items, they often act like they are being price gouged when in reality the costs are higher for those items.

[powerpress]

Leave a Reply