‘Encouraging’: Study explores ways to boost healthier vending purchases on campus

By Stephen Daniells contact

- Last updated on GMT

© Getty Images / kasto80
© Getty Images / kasto80

Related tags: Retailing, Nutrition

Healthier food choices at college vending machines can be achieved by using principles of choice architecture and point-of-purchase labeling, without affecting financial performance, says a new study from UCLA.

The study’s findings, published in the journal Appetite​, shows that approaches such as branding vending machines with a Healthy Campus Initiative sticker, identifying healthier products as with “Eat Well” stickers, and simple reorganization of food items in the machines can lead to much higher purchase rates of healthier products.

“To our knowledge, this study evaluated sales data from a larger number of vending machines than any previous evaluation of healthier vending machines in a university setting, contributing to the growing evidence that healthy vending policies can support healthier eating choices on university campuses,” ​wrote the researchers.

“These results are encouraging, and the intervention serves as an example for large institutions considering making similar changes to their food environments.”

Location, location, location

The healthier vending space continues to grow, with receptive locations being a key factor in its potential success. Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA earlier this year,​ Luke Saunders from Farmer’s Fridge – which closed a $10 million funding round led by Danone Ventures, PowerPlant Ventures and Cleveland Avenue earlier this year – noted that multiple locations work for healthy vending, but the economics of each are different.

“Our location strategy is pretty diverse, so we’re in retail stores with our own POS, but we’re also in offices, hospitals, airports, train stations, museums, and colleges,” ​he said. “The economics arrangements vary, so for offices we’re seen more as an amenity and sometimes subsidized by employers, whereas in retail, we’ll do a revenue share.”

The UCLA team focused on college campuses, and investigated how to boost the purchase of healthier products at vending machines, without losing revenue. “The intervention was part of a larger interdisciplinary effort by the university, called the Healthy Campus Initiative, to promote healthy choices among students, faculty and staff, and was designed in collaboration with leadership from the campus Housing and Hospitality, which operates all vending machines on campus,”​ they explained.


Healthier choices

The researchers used the criteria from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health for healthier items:

Contains no more than 250 Calories, 35% calories from fat, 10% calories from saturated fat, 35% sugar by weight and 360 mg of sodium for the contents of the entire package.

In addition to the Healthy Campus Initiative stickers and “Eat Well” labeling, the researchers also positioned the healthier products together in cohesive groups, and arranged large healthier product at eye level in dedicated rows. A third of all smaller snack products were healthier products. Purchase habits were compared to vending machines with their original inventory of healthier and other products. The price of popular candy bars were increased by 25¢ for all vending machines. 

“In a university setting, the redesign of vending machines using principles of choice architecture and point-of-purchase labeling resulted in much higher rates of healthier products purchased without compromising financial performance,”​ reported the researchers.

“The expected count of healthier items purchased from an intervention machine is 8 times higher than that of a comparison machine, and undecided customers who purchased from intervention machines were significantly more likely to buy a healthier product than undecided customers who purchased from comparison machines.

“The findings of this study suggest that health-promoting interventions can influence vending machine consumers without compromising revenue or profit. We encourage institutional leaders to use this study as an opportunity to engage public health and business partners to lend their respective expertise in establishing healthy and viable food environments.”

Source: Appetite
Volume 121, Pages 263-267, doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2017.11.094
“Healthier vending machines in a university setting: Effective and financially sustainable”
Authors: J. Viana, et al.


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