To vend, or not to vend?

When Jonathan Hilder took over as CEO of the Automatic Vending Association (AVA) in January he quickly become involved with government at the highest level on two contentious issues; firstly healthy eating and more lately on the introduction of the new 5p and 10p coins.  

Healthy eating
Obesity has been on the government’s agenda for some time and Hilder inherited a problem imposed by Edwina Hart (Minister of Health for Wales) who, in 2008, imposed restrictions on the products that could be sold through vending machines in Welsh Hospitals.

The reasoning behind the product ban was the claim that “it would improve patients’ health” but this claim falls flat on two counts; firstly vending in hospitals is used predominantly between 8pm and 2am by hospital staff and secondly the nearby shops selling the banned foods have remained open so as to merely move the point of purchase.

The issue of banning vended products was then exacerbated when just before the election David Cameron was quoted as proposing to ban vending machines in schools. The logic was that it would “give children their childhood back.” After hearing this on the news, the AVA and its members lobbied hard to bring sense to the proposal. Whilst being fully supportive of any policies that were trying to give children back their childhood, the suggestion that banning vending machines would help to achieve this was completely unfounded.

Making the right choices
The AVA gained support from several schools who saw the ban as depriving children from being able to make the right choice. By giving children the education in understanding and achieving a healthy lifestyle they are set to make the right choices for the future. Hilder is keen to put things into context: “Vending is only one sales channel and the UK snack and confectionery market is worth £39bn of which £7.8bn is chocolate and snacks. Only five per cent of the snack intake goes through the vending channel. Snacks represent one per cent of the British calorific food intake, vending represents five per cent of this one per cent so this leaves 99.95 per cent of the problem unaltered”.

He goes on to explain: “The nation has been eating snacks and confectionery for many years without issue. Vending machines provide a wide choice and the items on sale reflect consumer tastes and demand; including fresh fruit, low fat and low sugar products as well as a range of drinks to rival the high street coffee shops.

“There is also the issue of what constitutes a healthy choice and to date the AVA has been unable to get clarification from those who have criticised or banned vending.” Interestingly the FSA has commented that there is no such thing as unhealthy food, only unhealthy diet.

Jonathan commented: “If they are unable to quantify it, then it is difficult for the AVA to help implement change.”

Labelling systems
There are currently three recognised labeling systems operating to educate consumers and encourage healthy eating, namely GDA, the traffic light system and calorific value.

Jonathan believes that the calorie system is the simplest to follow, most people understand that if they consume more than the average recommended number of daily calories without burning them off then they will gain weight. He acknowledges that nutrition is a complex area but says we have to start somewhere.

This view is supported by Gill Fine, director of consumer choice and dietary health, who commented recently: “The battle between GDA and traffic light labels has been deeply unhelpful.” She went on to explain her work with caterers; where 21 companies have put calories on menus, consumers have found this useful. She summed up by saying this is excellent news for consumers.

Keen to implement guidance to his members, Jonathan is looking to develop the recommended ‘healthier shelf’. AVA members are regularly introducing new products and Jonathan’s aim is that vending will maintain consumer choice and make that choice easy.

Freedom of choice
The AVA represents the interests of the £1.65bn refreshment vending industry and it is keen to implement guidance to its members.

Working with other trade associations, brand owners and food service organisations, the AVA has formed the Vending Choice Coalition (VCC). Their goal is to ensure that consumers have freedom of choice to purchase a wide range of food and beverages through vending in order to achieve a balanced diet.

Advice from expert speakers at a recent Vending Choice conference revealed that a lifestyle that combines regular physical activity with consumption of a wide range of food choices is the key to healthy living. It is vital that consumers at all ages are able to make that choice for themselves.

Hilder is determined that the AVA will continue to educate and advise on how vending can help rather than hinder healthy choices. “As an industry we work hard to support healthy living and provide a variety of choices. We will continue to lobby hard to prevent any legislation that imposes limited choice or financial penalties,” he said.

New 5p and 10p coinage
Britain’s 5p and 10p coins will be changed from January 1st 2011. Although the new coins will look similar to existing ones they will be made of a different material, they will be thicker and for the first time they will be magnetic.

These changes have huge implications for any industry that uses coins and vending is one such industry. The AVA estimates that it will cost their industry an extra £42 million and it could cost the coin industry as a whole up to £100 million.

Hilder explains: “Vending machines use sophisticated technology designed to detect fraud. They test each coin by its shape as well as its electromagnetic composition. To handle the new coins all machines will have to have their software updated, and in most instances, they will need to be recalibrated to recognise both the new coins and the old ones, which will continue to be in circulation for at least a decade.”

Jonathan has been in close dialogue with the Royal Mint and the Treasury as the timing will be critical to ensuring the smooth introduction of the new coins into vending.

The coin mechanism manufacturers received sample coins as late as last month and they are completing their tests. The next stage will be for operator engineers to visit and upgrade the software. This is the time consuming and costly part of the introduction. Taking this on board the AVA has managed to get written assurance that no new coins will be circulated until April 2011.

As we move forward the AVA will continue talking to the Treasury and the Mint to ensure it protects members’ interests and ultimately their customers.

Vending and its advantages
Vending is flexible, cost effective, secure and sustainable. Stylish machines deliver healthy options, tasty treats, meals, hot and cold drinks as well as many other non traditional items. It offers a fantastic way to provide a 24/7 service to an organisation.

Incorporating the latest technology, machines are reliable and can be monitored remotely. They can provide anything from a simple drink to a full catering service.

There are currently over 500,000 vending machines in operation in the UK in all sorts of public sector locations. The AVA has members up and down the country delivering a quality service.

In June 2011 the Industry has its bi annual exhibition, AVEX 2011. Organised by the AVA, the exhibition showcases the best in vending. There will be seminars and experts on hand to offer advice first hand.

If you wish to find out more, contact the AVA on 020 8661 1112 or e-mail jonathan@ava-vending.co.uk

 

 

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