When a “snack attack” strikes at school, students all too often turn to vending
machines, lured by the quick pick-me-up offered by the candy bars, potato chips and other less-than-healthy options.
A Curtice-based company is offering a line of vending machines designed to offer wholesome alternatives to sodas and junk food.
Andrew, Kelley and Jessica Howard, started Healthy Vending LLC last February. The trio – brothers Andrew and Kelley and Jessica, who is Kelley’s wife – are not new business partners – they have owned Howard Lawn & Landscaping for about 10 years.
“The thing is, landscaping is a seasonal business in our area, so we were looking for another venture that would give us income in the winter time,” Jessica said.
“At that time, we were striving to make some big changes in our personal lives in terms of trying to be healthier, and the more we started to think about business options, we thought we should pick something that we have an interest in personally,” she said.
“We started going down that avenue and looking at things on the Internet and we came across this company that had these healthy vending machines,” Jessica said. “We kind of pursued it from there and it has just taken off.”
The company, San Diego-based Yo-Naturals, devised a line of “YoZone” vending machines that offer fresh, organic and natural snacks and beverages.
“Everything about these machines is state-of-the-art,” Jessica said. “They include a remote-monitoring system that sends us an e-mail report every morning telling us what products sold so that we can ensure that the machines are stocked and serviced at all times. The same system allows customers to pay for their healthy snacks and drinks with a credit card.”
Other machine features include lockout timers, which can be used to control access during designated hours, and “Sure-Vend,” which refunds the customer’s money if the machine fails to vend a product.
“The company has a network of distributors that we can go to to get the products to go in the machines, but it’s not the sort of thing that you have to only buy products from them,” Jessica said. “And initially, they help you get locations to get started”
Healthy Vending currently has machines in Oak Harbor Middle School and Oak Harbor, Woodmore, Eastwood, Notre Dame and St. Ursula high schools. “We also have machines in the Toledo Museum of Art, at Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania and at the Toledo Ice House on Alexis Road,” Jessica said.
The company's vending machines are placed in schools at no cost to the schools. “We have found that some schools are concerned that our products will compete with the vendors already contracted with the school,” Jessica said. “We are happy to provide any location with a non-compete list of our available beverages.
“We are not looking to replace a school’s current vending, but rather simply provide a healthy choice option,” she said, adding that commissions are paid to the schools based on sales.
The Howards say they are happy to work with school staff to customize food and beverage options to meet nutrition guidelines and to satisfy local preferences.
Machines are stocked with products similar to those found in “natural” or health food stores, including a variety of low-fat cereal and energy bars, baked chips, puffed rice and corn snacks, crackers, sugar-free cookies, 100 percent juice and smoothie beverages, organic milk, and iced tea. Prices range from 85 cents to $2, somewhat more than traditional snacks, but still competitive, Jessica said.
“When we started, the company gave us guidelines about what would probably sell the best so we kind of started with that,” Jessica said. “Over time, you kind of get a feel for what the kids like.
“It’s different in different schools – the kids in Oak Harbor High School buy totally different things than kids from Woodmore, who buy totally different things than the students in the all-girls schools.”
“But it’s funny – students all over love apple juice in the pouch but they hate the juice box – it’s interesting to see their choices,” she said.
Thus far, the response has been good from schools and students, Jessica said. “There’s an awareness – younger people are concerned with their health,” she said.
“The vending machines with the traditional snack items are still available, but those we’ve talked to seem to appreciate having a more nutritional option available,” she said.