Boulder gets fresh take on vending



It´s an all-too-familiar scenario:

You’re taking a break at work, lingering in a waiting room or maybe even fresh off a workout at the gym, and a vending machine is calling your name. You stand, dollar in hand, contemplating your choices. The Cheetos or the Kit Kat bar?

While the ease and convenience of these traditional vending machines is what many find so tempting, not to mention the landscape of sugary treats, a niche has recently emerged in the snacking world — one that provides natural and organic snacks in vending machines.

Fresh Healthy Vending, a vending machine company based out of San Diego, is attempting to take hold of this market with its dual-climate vending machines that offer snacks such as yogurt, vitaminwater, Mix1 protein shakes, Clif Bars, Silk Soymilk and more.

However, what makes Fresh Healthy Vending unique in the healthy snacks industry is its franchise business model, says Alex Kennedy, a Fresh Healthy Vending franchise development manager. The company, established in 2010, now has a total of 63 franchises throughout the United States and Canada.

“We’re the only franchise in healthy vending, and we’ve got a unique infrastructure,” Kennedy says. “Most [franchisees] have never been in vending before; they have a lot of questions and need a lot of answers. That infrastructure is there to support our franchisees — we’re definitely here to make sure they have all the support they need.”

This infrastructure includes location departments that work to scout sites for machines, subcontracted movers who both deliver the machines from warehouses and work with franchisees to help with maintenance information, and even an online forum where franchisees can share tips and tricks of the trade.

Such a supportive framework and the notion of being a business owner is what Eric Hübler of Denver says interested him in becoming the first Denver territory franchisee with Fresh Healthy Vending.

“The concreteness of it, the simplicity of the concept [is what I found appealing],” Hübler says. “And the fact that I’m still doing something for the social good.”

Hübler signed a contract with Fresh Healthy Vending in December 2010, and his franchise includes nine Denver locations and one Boulder location, at The Spot Bouldering Gym.

Dan Howley, owner of The Spot Bouldering Gym, says using Fresh Healthy Vending for the gym’s first vending machine was a good fit.

“We try to keep a pretty healthy offering,” Howley says. “It seems like a decent vending offering for this demographic, for this local community, so I would expect to see more [in the future].”

Despite Boulder’s familiarity with many of the products offered in the machines, Howley says there were some factors to consider before agreeing to have the machine in his gym, which already sells some of the same items.

“Certainly there were a couple things that were considerations: Complications with other products that we sell here, what the return for our business would be with the machine,” he says.

The machine has been in the gym since March and Howley says so far, the response has been positive.

Although Hübler’s franchise includes the one Boulder location, there is no established Boulder franchisee yet.

“I’m hopeful that there will be a proper Boulder franchisee soon,” he says. “I just spoke with a woman and encouraged her very strongly to go for it, it’s possibly the best location in the country.”

Hübler says one of the things he enjoys most about being a part of the company is working to provide consumers with better alternatives for snacks.

“You can have a snack break and not harm your health, and I know that I’m doing something beneficial,” he says. “I have an opportunity and obligation to encourage people to try something new. For some people, soymilk is a better choice for their health. I would like people to know that the soy milk is a good option.”

Hübler says trying to provide these healthier alternatives can present a challenge because once consumers approach a vending machine, they tend to default on a choice that they are comfortable with, especially for older consumers in a corporate setting.

“I think that the biggest challenge is familiarity, that people will go back to the same thing over and over,” he says. “People have their favorite snack, and there is timidity about making a change.”

Schools, hospitals and fitness facilities make the ideal location for one of the machines, Kennedy says, because the atmosphere is one that is already geared toward making healthier decisions.

Boulder Valley School District Director of Nutrition Services Ann Cooper says that before making a recommendation to a principal about whether or not to bring one of the machines into a BVSD school, she would need more information about both the snacks and the business. Regardless, she says, the goal of machines offering healthier alternatives is in sync with the various health initiatives already in place in BVSD.

“I don’t know where their machines would be, but I think if we’re going to have vending in workplaces or potentially even in schools, healthy vending is better than non-healthy vending machines,” Cooper says.

There may be only one franchise in Colorado currently, but Hübler says he expects to see many more franchises soon.

“The way to look at it is, once people saw that the Prius wasn’t a fluke, that you could actually get places in it, they did well,” he says. “It’s the same thing. I think Fresh [Healthy Vending] is kind of leading the way.”