Blue Zones Project
We’ve all been there. We’re trying to eat healthily, but it’s been a very busy day and we want a snack. However, the only thing we have time to stop for is something out of a vending machine.
Darin McBryde has made some headway on the problem. Have both a quick snack and a healthy one out of a vending machine.
McBryde, district general manager of Canteen, a vending machine provider, is changing the way of the vending machine, namely the pricing and layout – starting with those at Lockheed Martin – to encourage healthy choices.
“When Lockheed Martin got on board with Blue Zones Project, I was approached to work with the company to overhaul its snack and beverage offerings,” McBryde said.
“We used an old-school merchandising tactic where we bring the items we want to showcase more to eye level, so that when someone is making a selection, the healthier option is the first thing they see.”
McBryde’s idea was also to group healthy products together and raise the price of the unhealthy products to premium level. For example, a 20-ounce soda would cost $1.90, while the price of sparkling water was lowered to $1.
“Today, we are lowering the retail price on items that don’t sell as much and lifting the price on units we know sell at a higher volume,” he said.
“What we discovered is that when we made those healthy options more obvious and less expensive, and therefore made that choice easier to make, more people made a healthy selection. And that’s really the premise behind Blue Zones Project.”
McBryde said encouraging healthy choices is just the right thing to do. Also, companies working with him are looking for ways to enhance employee well-being — something that is associated with improved productivity on the job.
He admits that from a business perspective this approach does come with some risk. However, when the companies they serve decide they would rather have a clear choice of healthy items, his company wants to support that effort.
McBryde has Type 2 diabetes and has struggled with his weight for 12 years. He also survived cancer in 2008 (Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
He said the way Blue Zones Project representatives explained the program caught his attention, and he realized it wasn’t another diet that was going to be forced on his vending business, targeting the removal of items on which he makes money. Instead, it was more of an education program that encourages healthy lifestyle choices.
Personally, he said, his A1C blood levels have dropped to about 5.4 (people with Type 2 diabetes have levels over 6.5) and he’s been off his diabetes medicine for several months. He’s also lost close to 100 pounds.
And the response to healthier snacking has been strong from others, he said. For example, at Lockheed Martin sales of healthier snack choices have risen as much as 19 percent.
“Throughout the D-FW market, those items made up only 9 percent of sales. Canteen’s revenues from Lockheed sales are significantly above projections, and healthier options make up nearly half of the top 20 items sold — something that’s unheard of,” he said.
Healthy products in the vending machines include waters, coffee, fruit and whole nuts unsalted or without added sugar.
“In keeping with this approach, we are offering Avani bars, whole nuts like cashews and almonds, sunflower seeds, apples, oranges, bananas, salads, veggie wraps, other vegetarian choices, etc.,” McBryde said.
The most popular item, he said, is water.
“Due to the price drop, it has remained in the top three of all products sold for all markets with the program,” he said.
“Pricing doesn’t seem to be as big of a concern for younger generations, but for my generation and before, $1.35 is ridiculous for a chocolate snack, and I will grab the sunflower seeds for 75 cents every time. So, pricing still has a major influence on how a good portion of the workforce buys, even when it comes to products less than $2, especially in a majority blue-collar account.”
McBryde said that because of the results at Lockheed, some other companies are showing interest in joining the movement. Cambridge Co. in Fort Worth has the program in its vending machines.
“We are working with DFW Airport on a program. It will be a little different due to the contract terms, but we feel we can come up with a good program that is close in marketing,” he said. “Penske and McKesson have also shown interest in the program and want to make their offerings healthier while still giving choices.
“Hopefully, eating habits change and the industry will change right along with them. I believe the additional companies interested in this approach and the success of Blue Zones Project in Fort Worth are a sign of things to come here in the Metroplex. We still struggle in our industry, but we have come a long way as far as what we can offer when it comes to healthy options.
“Twenty-five years ago, we really only had water (which was not popular), coffee, plain rice cakes, and a wafer bar that advertised healthy but I’m really not sure it was. Then we went through the late 90s and into the 2000s trying to figure out what healthy was, with all the diets and lack of direction on what was really healthy.”
McBryde, who has been in the food vending industry a quarter of a century, said he believes the industry is finally headed down the right path for new generations. However, there is still work to be done.
“We are still missing some core products that are truly healthy that could help make it easier for employees to make healthier snack choices while at work,” he said. “The more healthy options we can offer, and the more appealing we can make them, the more likely people are to make that choice.
“It honestly feels great to know the company I work for is making a difference by partnering with Blue Zones Project and clients like Lockheed Martin to promote a healthier workplace, and all while still making a profit.”