Vending machines sell consumer items that are grab-and-go by design to provide instant relief from a specific point. They are usually filled with snacks and sugary beverages, but this business opportunity can sell water, sandwiches, yogurt, muffins, and even fruits and vegetables. When these machines are placed in schools, then the goal is to fill them with healthy items since junk foods can have a detrimental impact on how kids learn.
There is an element of personal responsibility to consider with vending machines at schools, but we must also consider the maturity levels of the students who spend their money with these businesses. When there is a choice between celery or a candy bar, most students will choose the unhealthy option. Instead of choosing water, a soda becomes the preferred choice instead.
It is helpful to have food and beverage options throughout the day, but the pros and cons of having vending machines in schools can also create health issues that may reduce the learning opportunities which are available each day.
List of the Pros of Vending Machines in Schools
1. Vending machines can be used to offer healthy foods.
The traditional vending machine might offer gum, candy bars, potato chips, cookies, and other high-calorie snacks which offer low nutritional value. When schools use this technology to provide nutritious foods like string cheese, carrots with low-fat dips, dried fruit products, milk, yogurt, or veggie fries, then the healthier foods can improve the learning environment for each student.
You really are what you eat when looking at your health profile. Using vending machines to teach better eating decisions can help students feel like they are taking charge of their health. “Increasing the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables as snacks in schools will go a long way toward creating a healthy school food environment and improvement nutrition for 32 million school children,” said Dr. Lorelei DiSogra, VP of Nutrition and Health of the United Fresh Product Association.
2. It allows a student to manage their snacking habits.
Eating poor-quality foods each day can contribute to a lack of learning opportunities, but so can the presence of hunger. If a student is focused more on the fact that their stomach is grumbling than the information in the classroom, then their grades will go down over time. The presence of vending machines in school makes it possible to satisfy a snack craving so that the focus can remain on the teacher.
Affordable prices are necessary to take advantage of this benefit, which is why many schools either work with local vending businesses to limit costs or purchase the equipment themselves to offer the needed snacks. “When peer pressure and stigma drive low-income students to purchase less healthy competitive foods instead of eating healthy school meals, they lose out nutritionally in a much bigger way than their more affluent peers.”
3. These machines can be used for non-food purposes in schools.
The debate about having vending machines in schools often centers around the quality of the food products which are available to the students. Today’s equipment can be used for a variety of options, including to make payments toward an after-school program, purchase computers, sign up for athletics, and purchase supportive equipment like tape, bandages, and other items that are needed for a consistent academic performance.
When there are high levels of accessibility available to the student body, everyone wins. The school earns more money from the presence of the vending machines, while the students and their parents or guardians receive access to the critical items they require for a successful school day.
4. It offers a resource for students and teachers to get what they require.
School vending machines are a convenient way to offer what people need to have during the day at any time. Some schools have even taken the step of offering safe sex products on campus as a way to encourage safer behaviors from their student body, although this advantage typically occurs more at the college level. If you are short a pen or pencil for an exam, need a notebook, or forgot lunch and don’t want to hit the cafeteria, then you can take advantage of what is inside a school vending machine to take care of what you need.
This advantage is especially important for students who don’t get the chance to make it home between school and practice. Having a vending machine available allows them to get a snack that they can use as fuel until they can make it home for dinner.
5. This equipment can improve employee satisfaction.
When you have happy and healthy students and faculty on a school campus, then you increase the potential outcomes that are possible in each classroom. Making sure that the basic needs of each person are within easy reach is a small, but important morale booster that should not be ignored. People who have immediate access to items they want or need feel like they are cared for personally, that their goals are a priority, and that the administration is working to support them in multiple ways.
List of the Cons of Vending Machines in Schools
1. The focus of a vending machine is to make a profit.
Unless a school purchases and stocks vending machines personally, most districts use a licensing arrangement that allows a local business to use their equipment to earn some money. Larger districts can earn as much as $100,000 per year by selling contracts which allow vending professionals access to their student body. That means the emphasis of each item is on profitability more than health and wellness, so each machine gets stocked with the products that are most likely to sell.
That is why you see junk food in the average school vending machine. There are sodas and flavored milk present, but not as many healthy items. Those companies need to make back the cost of the contract and still earn some take-hone cash to meet their needs as well.
2. it can encourage health issues and obesity with the products sold.
Some of the most popular consumables that you can find with the vending machine industry are carbonated sugary drinks. These sodas and soft drinks add empty calories to the student’s diet, which can eventually lead to weight gain, heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis, and diabetes. There are numerous ill effects to consider when consuming junk food regularly, which is why many school districts are looking at the benefits of banning the presence of vendors instead of encouraging more contracts.
“Many parents are working hard every day to make sure they provide healthy, balanced meals and snacks to their kids,” said former First Lady Michelle Obama. “Unfortunately, we don’t always have control over the snacks our kids have access to when they’re away from home.” That’s why healthy snacking options must be part of school vending machines.
3. Students may not be able to recognize what a healthy snack is in the vending machine.
It is up to the student to recognize which snacks are healthy and what ones are not when they purchase food for themselves. That means an understanding of the information on a nutritional label is critical to the success of a school vending machine. Young students may not yet be equipped with the knowledge to make healthy choices in this area, which means even the presence of labels may not be enough to encourage a better choice.
Many kids make impulsive choices with snacks when they are not under the supervision of an adult. They choose what tastes good or what they like as a dessert, so you’ll see a lot of chocolate and candy chosen instead of healthier items. That’s why the profit-making potential is frowned upon with these machines. Adults are profiting off of the kids in their community.
4. There are added administrative costs to consider.
Even if the school does not own the vending machines that are on campus, the employees and students in the district will want their money back if the equipment malfunctions for some reason. Someone on the administrative staff must be given the responsibility of handling a claim, processing refunds, or communicating the issues to the vendor responsible for managing the equipment.
There is a time cost to consider for schools here as well. Teachers and staff who visit a vending machine to grab something to eat are going to be spending 5-10 minutes with each visit doing something that is unproductive. If you need 3-4 quick snacks each day, then that’s 30-40 minutes of lost time per person. That figure adds up quickly if you have 100 staff all doing the same thing.
5. You will still have competition from other food vendors.
When there are vending machines located in the school, then any subsidizing of this equipment could take money away from other operations that occur on campus. Students and employees might choose to use the items in your vending machine instead of visiting the cafeteria or using other school lunch options. People will always go to where the money is for them. Schools already have multiple snack options available, so adding a vending machine could cause someone else to leave.
6. The quantity or quality of snacks offered can be questionable.
Schools are promoting healthy eating habits with their curriculum, so providing unhealthy snacks as a way to reduce hunger and increase focus can send a mixed message to staff and students. Districts must speak with their vendors or stock their machines with fruit, nuts, granola bars, and similar items to match their mandate. Failing to do so may eliminate the educational progress of some students.
7. There is no guarantee that people will purchase the food.
Schools might see high levels of foot traffic throughout the day, but that is not a guarantee that someone will visit the vending machine for a snack or something to drink. This industry always runs the risk of having the food go stale while waiting to be sold in the machine. That’s why you typically find snacks with a long shelf life inside the equipment. It eliminates the losses of waste. Since most schools want fresher foods stocked, there is a risk that the food might go bad if the vendor doesn’t come back to refill the machine for some time.
8. The equipment has a cost consideration to look at if you have vending machines present.
If schools want to have their own vending machine on campus, then they can expect to pay at least $3,000 for the equipment – even if they look for used products in this category. That’s a high price to pay if only a handful of people are going to be using this item between classes. You’ll then have the cost of snacks and beverages to stock in the machine, which means prices are usually a little higher than what people would pay at retail because of the convenience. If you purchase a vending machine which accepts credit or debit cards, then you have the transaction fees to pay.
Stocking your machine requires a staff expense as well, either from the vendor or within the school. You must keep an eye on the expiration dates on each product as well, which means you must budget some waste into the expense.
9. Smart snacking regulations can cause schools to lose a lot of money.
Sandra Ford, who is the director of Food and Nutrition Services at the Manatee County School District in Florida, told U.S. News and World Report that her district could lose almost $1 million per year just to keep the foods in vending machines that are required by the U.S. government since 2012 – even with a relaxation of the original standards. It is cheaper for some schools to remove the equipment altogether because of the added costs of changing laws in this area. That’s why more licensing occurs today, which drives up the overall costs of supplying foods and beverages to students and teachers.
Conclusion of the Pros and Cons of Vending Machines in Schools
Vending machines can offer a significant boost in revenues to school districts who need some extra support. The contracts from a vendor can help to pay the salary expenses for an extra teacher or two. Large districts can sometimes clear over $1 million in total revenues across all of their locations each year with this option, which is funding that is difficult to ignore in an era when governments are trying to trim expenses.
The pros and cons of vending machines in schools must also look at the quality of foods and beverages provided as well. Healthier items tend to have a shorter shelf time, which is why they are ignored so often when stocking the equipment. If your school promotes healthy eating habits and stocks junk food, then the hypocrisy of doing so won’t be lost on your student body.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.