Chicago parks have replaced the usual vending machine fare with healthier snacks. This new healthy change has increased the total vending machine sales each month significantly. Chicago is one of the first cities improving the food available in public areas with its 100% Healthier Snack Vending Initiative. In 2010, the district searched for bids in a vending contract that had proper nutrition standards such as limited partition sizes, low sugar, low sodium, low fat and low calories.
Later that year, the district entered into a 5-year contract with a vendor. One of the district staff members, also a registered dietitian, helped develop the nutrition standards. The contract also requires all snack items to be uniformly priced at $1 so that price is not a driver in food choice.
For several years, the CDC (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has recommended that communities make healthy drinks and food available in their public parks. Chicago decided to make that change with over 200,000 children visiting the Chicago Park District each year. Vending machines containing cookies and candy were replaced by baked chips, granola bars and fruit snacks.
There are 2.7 million residents in Chicago. The Chicago Park District is actually the largest municipal park system in the country. There are 260 field houses and 580 parks which cover over 8,100 acres.
The CDC believes that parks are an important area to promote health via physical activity and access to healthy food. They are especially important in urban areas with a limited amount of open space. Parks are actually the public’s second largest provider of food to children in the U.S. In 2011, 985,000 meals were served.
For more than one year, researchers at Northwestern University have been collecting data about the healthier vending machines. Researchers discovered that approximately 88% of Chicago park patrons and 100% of Chicago park staff reported liking the new healthier food options. In addition, each machine’s monthly sales increased from approximately $84 to approximately $371. At the end of August 2012 there were total of 98 machines making an average of $371 per month. This equates to a total revenue of $36,358 per month.
You can see the complete report from CDC titled “Working With Community Partners to Implement and Evaluate the Chicago Park District’s 100% Healthier Snack Vending Initiative”.
Here are the sales and machine numbers published in the CDC report.
|Month and Year||Sales by Month per Machine, $||Number of Machines in Place|
Figure 1. Average monthly sales per machine during the machine deployment period (June 2011 through August 2012).
|Month||No. of Out-of-Stock Items per Machine||Industry Standard|
Figure 2. The average number of out-of-stock items (empty slots) per machine at time of refill by month (June 2011 through August 2012).
Another aspect of the researchers was the percentage of adults and children that purchased food out of the healthier vending machines. They found that approximately 55% of vending purchases from the snack machine were made by children thus, providing that healthy snack vending machines could have a great impact of the eating habits of American children.
These findings are extremely important to the vending machine industry. Many vending machine business owners and vending machine location owners fear that revenue will be lost if healthy vending machines are used. They also normally object to government implementing healthy vending initiatives for the same reason. The researchers are pleased their experience can help lessen those fears in communities all over the country and provide additional support for other districts’ healthy vending initiative. As the demand grows to improving the quality of food, communities will benefit greatly about state, local and national park healthy food initiative.
Researchers found that the healthy vending machine initiative has led to an improved healthy food environment in the Chicago parks. In addition, the success of the healthy snack vending initiative has led to the district getting healthy beverage vending contracts in 2013.