Vending could get healthier

By Michelle Gibbons

Vending machines often attract regular snackers with variety and convenience. Though vending companies choose what is sold in the machines, their decisions are affected by demand.

Owned and operated by Pepsi Americas and Ace Coffee Bar, Inc., about 200 vending machines are available on campus, said Mitch Kielb, director of the Holmes Student Center. With the number of machines being fairly constant, both companies have a 10-year contract that expires Dec. 2008, he said.

Vending machines are solely operated by the two companies, Kielb said. Product prices vary depending on the product, size and inflation rates.

Though the machines do not cost the university anything to have on campus, NIU makes approximately $500,000 per year on commission from vending, Kielb said. In addition, NIU receives $400,000 for academic and student initiatives through its involvement with vending machine distributors.

$200,000 goes to a Centennial Scholarship administered by the Provost; $50,000 goes to improvement of undergraduate teaching coordinated by Faculty Development; $50,000 goes to student life initiative coordinated by the Vice Provost for academic affairs; $50,000 goes to undergraduate special opportunities in artistry and research administered by the Vice Provost and $50,000 is for athletic scholarships coordinated by athletics, Kielb said.

Pepsi Americas, based in Rolling Meadows, sells popular carbonated soft drinks, juice, tea, water and coffee.

The most popular Pepsi products are Aquafina water, Pepsi and Mountain Dew, said Cheryl Wilson, senior account executive for Pepsi Americas.

Lucas Potts, a junior political science major and ROTC cadet staff sergeant, said he likes the variety, but “wouldn’t mind healthier items being added, like Powerade.”

Pepsi is looking to add more healthy alternatives for customers, including more 100 percent juice, Lipton tea products and flavored vitamin and fitness waters, Wilson said.

Vending machines are replaced or exchanged based on need, such as new building openings, renovations and/or when new vending technology becomes available, Wilson said.

Ace Coffee Bar, Inc., based in Streamwood, sells mostly snack items, ice cream, hot drinks, such as coffee and refrigerated food, said Ken Malack, director of sales for Ace Coffee Bar, Inc.

Upon request, health bars, granola bars, Fig Newtons, wafers and other healthy items could be included in the vending machines, Malack said. Ace also has a full-line of products that meet the low-sugar, low-salt, low-cholesterol guidelines, which are interspersed with other snack items, he said. Though some healthier items are included among snack items in NIU vending machines, snack items are more popular.

“Granola bars, wafers and Fig Newtons don’t approach the sales of traditional chocolate candy and chip snack items,” Malack said. “We haven’t dedicated a specific vending machine to all healthy items. Healthier selections have not been overly popular.”