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Healthful vending makes inroads

By Cindy Stauffer

Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:11 p.m. HST, Apr 19, 2013



LANCASTER, Pa. » The 3 p.m. munchies strike. You wander down to the company vending machine.

What you will find there might not just be a Snickers bar or a bag of Doritos anymore.

How about pita chips? Or a protein smoothie? Or maybe even a hard-boiled egg?

Local companies are gravitating toward different choices in their vending machines, ditching the high-calorie options in the revolving caddy that one industry rep jokingly calls "the wheel of death." Some are even opting for a setup that looks more like a miniature store than a bank of machines.

"We want healthier employees," said Sharon Leese, vice president of human resources for Moravian Manor, a Lititz retirement community. "They have less days away from work and less work injuries."

"With the rising cost of health care," she said, "we have to do whatever we can to make employees healthier."

About 100 representatives from local companies recently attended a fair at Burle Business Park, where almost a dozen local vending companies showed off unusual healthy vending machine items such as the Happy Squeeze, which is mashed banana, apple and kiwi in a pouch, and Humbles, olive oil, lemon and feta hummus chips.

Sponsored by LiveWELL Lancaster County and Lighten Up Lancaster County, the fair's goal was to promote a healthier lifestyle in a county where 64 percent of adults and 32 percent of school-age children are overweight or obese, according to 2010 statistics.

And many people have access to food in a vending machine at work, school or other locations. In fact, about 10 area vending companies are estimated to make $4.2 million in sales this year in Lancaster County, reaching about 450,000 residents, according to a press release.

Those companies are changing the way they do business, vending representatives at the fair said. Cost-conscious employers are demanding it. And health-conscious employees are as well.

"They want the healthy granola bar," said Trisha Banker, a human resources program coordinator and wellness chair for Lancaster County government, which employs 2,000 people. "We are trying to embrace wellness across the board."

Banker said vending machines at the county government's nine buildings offer about 10 percent healthy options among their products, a share she hopes to increase to 50 percent by this fall.

Employers can choose whatever mix of options they want, said Bill Heller, district general manager for Canteen vending company, though many offer candy bars and chips along with healthier items.

Canteen is one company that offers a "micro market," which offers products including fresh fruit and packaged items on open shelves, refrigerated cases and a self-serve vending kiosk where employees can swipe a debit or prepaid card.

Fulton Bank has that setup at its East Petersburg operations center. The bank chose the store because employees were requesting healthier foods and more options, such as fresh salads and fresh fruits, said Fulton spokeswoman Laura Wakeley.

"It made perfect sense. It's something they want and it fits in with our own wellness program to encourage a healthy workplace," she said.

Schools also are choosing healthier items for vending machines, which plants the seed in kids early in life, said Pam Seiders of HUMAN Healthy Vending. HUMAN offers only health-conscious items.

"If you make the switch, it becomes a habit," she said.

For employers, it's not just about health. It's also about the bottom line.

Rudy Tacconelli, of OneSource vending, said, "When they can save $30,000 to $40,000 on their health insurance, or get discounts, they want it."

Healthier snack foods are usually more expensive than traditional snack foods. For example, an organic or protein snack bar costs between $1.75 and $2.25, versus $1 for a candy bar.

Some companies are willing to subsidize the higher cost of healthier items, offering them at comparable prices to traditional snack foods, said Guy Cordaro of CRH Catering.

"It's becoming more and more common because there is so much savings in health insurance," he said.

Debbie DeSha of Susquehanna Bancshares, the parent company of Susquehanna Bank, said healthy vending machine choices are a way to encourage wellness.

"In our environment, we are behind a desk all day," she said. "People will pick healthier choices if you educate them."






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