Healthier vending machine snacks put Blair's finances at a loss

Feb. 12, 2005, midnight | By Christopher Consolino | 19 years, 3 months ago

Students disapprove of inventory change

Blair's vending-machine sales fell sharply after the introduction of new, healthier snacks earlier this year. In response to the low sales, Monumental Vending and Midlantic Vending companies altered their contracts with Blair, according to Principal Phillip Gainous.

The new vending machine snacks replaced the unhealthy snacks previously available. Fruit juices, water, Combos, popcorn and low-fat versions of Cheetos are only some of the snacks and drinks now on sale. According to a memo sent by MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers to several local and national vending-machine companies, new county guidelines restrict the sale of machine snacks such as candies, sodas and Sugar Wafers during lunch hours and outside of the dining area.

New liquid products are sold in Blair's vending machines after the new inventory change. Photo courtesy of Caitlin O'Brien.

Paying the price of poor sales

Problems with vending-machine sales have already made a noticeable impact on Blair's finances. Gainous has noted that sales are nowhere near those of previous years. "The drinks and water are still losing money," he commented. According to Gainous, ice cream is the only vending machine product that is selling reasonably well this school year, earning Blair $2,865.75 as of January 2005.

Vending companies, such as Monumental Vending, have complied with the new county vending guidelines but because of low sales have cut their $30,000 (plus commissions) yearly guarantee to Blair. By December 2003, Blair had made $13,043 from Monumental Vending commissions, but this year, sales dropped, providing Blair with only $8,671 as of December 2004. Although the company previously contributed 30 percent of its gross sales profit to Blair, Monumental Vending has renegotiated its contract and lowered the commission rate by five percent. In addition, Midlantic Vending has lowered its commission rate to 15 percent of gross sales profit.

The Pepsi Corporation, however, has continued to give Blair a $55,000 guarantee (plus commissions) despite the lack of profits. Even if sales were to revert to their previous levels for the rest of this year, Pepsi stands to lose $22,950. Although Gainous feared the company would renegotiate its contract with Blair as happened with Monumental Vending, Pepsi has instead expressed interest in testing new, healthier products at Blair.

Former Blair Business Manager Anne Alban was not surprised that the vending machine businesses renegotiated their contracts with Blair in light of the recent drop in sales. "The companies have taken a significant loss and are reducing the commissions to [Montgomery County] schools," commented Alban. "They are not willing to shoulder all the loss." Still, Alban believes changing the contents of the vending machines was a good move on the part of MCPS. "Anytime you can encourage people to eat healthier, it's a good thing," said Alban.

The lack of vending-machine profits above the standard commission has now forced Blair to cut back on spending, according to Gainous. For instance, financial aid for Advanced Placement tests, which was previously paid for by vending-machine commissions, will be cut. Gainous also noted that vending machine-profits were usually used to pay for computer upgrades at Blair but that recently, MCPS upgraded both the school's hardware and software applications.

Evaluating eating habits

Despite many students' rejection of the new snacks, some such as senior Tracey Davis welcome the change, hoping that Blair students will begin to watch what they eat. To Davis, the new snacks may not be perfect, but they are good alternatives to junk foods. "I think it's great, especially considering America's obesity problem," she said.

Students buy food from vending machines along Blair Boulevard. Photo courtesy of Caitlin O'Brien.

The snacks used to be a regular source of food for Davis, given her busy schedule and the convenience of the machines, and she feels that relying on quick snacks for food and nutrition is common among students with several after-school activities. "[Students] are depending on the vending machines to get their food, instead of homemade meals," said Davis.

Walter Goozh, M.D., agrees with Davis, arguing that schools should offer healthier alternatives for students that use vending machines on a constant basis. Instead of low-fat snacks full of empty calories, Goozh believes foods with real nutritional value should be provided for students. "There is no reason why schools can't have fruit or yogurt in vending machines," he said. "It would just be one more slot that doesn't have chocolate." Goozh also thinks that the introduction of healthier snacks should be supplemented by an educational emphasis on balanced diets.

Craving the old snacks

Sophomore Lea Savard is among many who disapprove of the new snacks. She believes there was no need to change the vending machines' contents in order to get students to eat healthier. "I think we are old enough to make our own decisions about the snacks we buy," she said. Savard added that the new products have caused her to cut back on buying snacks during the day. "I bought a lot more from the old [vending machines]," Savard noted. "Now, it's just if I have to." She also knows other students who have stopped using the vending machines on a daily basis.

Students such as junior Rachel Martin think, students should have the option to buy unhealthy foods from vending machines. "You can't make people change their diet just by changing the snacks in the vending machines," she said. "I think it's punishing everybody instead of helping them eat better."

Blair's healthy future

The Blair Business Opportunity Center (BBOC), commonly known as the school store, has also begun to sell healthier snacks in accordance with the new MCPS guidelines. Most noticeably, candy bars have been replaced with foods low in sugar, such as Chex Mix and Nutrigrain Bars, and soda has been substituted for juice and water. BBOC, however, does continue to stock several items that are no longer available in the vending machines.

The store's transition to offering healthier snacks has not taken a major toll on profits, according to store co-manager Sandra Mann (parent/volunteer), which makes her optimistic that students will continue to purchase the foods BBOC has in stock. "Whatever [we] have to offer, they'll buy it," she said. Even though Mann is glad that the store and vending machines are no longer selling sodas, she noted that this does not mean students will stop eating unhealthy foods at school. "Students are very creative," commented Mann. "I now see more students bringing in canned sodas."

Davis agrees that there is little the county can do to make students improve their eating habits. Still, MCPS' efforts to encourage healthier eating have not been overlooked. "I don't think they can force students to eat healthy, but they're doing the best they can," said Davis.

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Christopher Consolino. Christopher Consolino is a senior in Communication Arts Program. If Chris had free time, he would spend it practicing piano and taking pictures with his 15 year-old Minolta. He would also like to stress how much better wet process photography is than digital. Most of … More »

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