New machines to cure snack withdrawal

By Chris Nelson

If you were hungry and at the library earlier this week, you might have noticed that vending machine selection was limited to O’Henry bars, pop, and more O’Henry bars. Similar lack of stock was apparent in vending machines all across campus.

The shortages have come as NIU ends a 20-year relationship with the Canteen Vending Co. in favor of a new arrangement with Service America.

According to Patricia Hewitt, associate vice president of business operations, the university originally had no intention of dropping Canteen as the campus vending distributor. Rather, Canteen opted out of its service contract when NIU refused to renegotiate aspects of the contract. In July, Canteen terminated the agreement.

Hewitt said the university then advertised for bids for a new vending contract. NIU received a total of seven proposals, including one from the old vendor, Canteen.

“They (Canteen) obviously felt that their deal could not be beaten,” Hewitt said.

Service America, however, felt differently and gave the university a bid it ultimately accepted.

The process of replacing the machines began last Monday and is scheduled to continue through Wednesday. Hewitt said users of the machines can expect some lag in service while the services are changed. The switch over is also responsible for the drop in inventory of the machines the past couple of weeks.

Hewitt pointed out the inconveniences people are experiencing now will be well worth the benefits of the new service.

“The machines will be more modern and will include more dollar bill changers,” Hewitt said.

Judd Baker, who oversees vending operations on campus, said modernization of the machines is a substantial gain over the old service.

“There were machines on this campus that were over 20 years old,” Baker said. “They were prone to mechanical breakdowns.

“With Service America, the machines will be either new or less than one year old,” he said.

Baker said the five-year contract signed with Service America grosses nearly $1 million a year. The university receives a certain percentage based on the type of product sold, whether it is chips, candy or pop.

While there might be some new products available, Hewitt said to expect a service that is fundamentally similar to the old one. The difference lies in the increased revenue amounts the university will be receiving, despite the fact that prices for items will remain the same.

“Revenue goes into the school income fund, as well as into servicing the building in which the machines stand.

“For instance, vending revenue funds five campus janitorial positions to help with site maintenance,” Hewitt said.

While the university gets the new, more modern machines and increased benefits, not everyone is happy with the switch.

In a letter to the editor of The Northern Star, Canteen employee Dan Dahlquist expressed regret over the breaking of the relationship between his company and NIU.

“As this campus has been like a second home to me I really will miss it a lot. Again, thank you all very much. I wish you the best,” he said.

“There were (vending) machines on this campus that were over 20 years old. They were prone to mechanical breakdowns. With Service America, the machines will be either new or less than one year old.”

Judd Baker

NIU vending services overseer