School lunch vending: smart vending machines

September 23, 2013
3 min read


One Michigan school system is introducing smart vending machines as a more convenient way for students to access healthier lunches.

The Bridgman, Michigan school district is hoping a smart vending machine will be the solution to two food-related problems: long days at school and long lines in the cafeteria.

Superintendent Shane Peters said the administration was investigating a new type of vending machine, which is billed as “a separate cafeteria line.”

The new machine can be programmed to work with the district’s foodservice accounting system to give students access to the food without worrying about cash. The machine could calculate if a student’s food selection contained the required food groups to qualify as a reimbursable meal under federal school meal standards.

The smart machine could shorten cafeteria lines, reduce labor, increase sales and give more options for à la carte items and after-school snacks. Menu options could range from single-serving packages of fresh baked muffins and cookies to popcorn, pretzels and nachos or baby carrots with ranch dip and fresh salads.


Automated health

We’ve seen how increased attention is being paid to school lunches and the healthfulness of the items included in student meals. Some schools have cut out high-sugar drinks and others have joined forces with local producers to boost healthy options.

As parents and kids alike begin to pay more attention to eating healthily, brands and businesses have opportunities to target these health-conscious consumers with products and tools that make choosing healthier options easier and more convenient.

According to Mintel’s Attitudes Toward Kids’ and Teens’ Snacking US November 2012 report, 46% of kids aged 6-11 and 47% of teens aged 12-17 said they are really aware of what they eat and try to eat healthy.

Because these smart vending machines can compute a meal’s nutritional content, they do part of the work that comes with making healthy choices for users. Similar shortcuts and tools will surely benefit other consumers when they’re looking for a healthy snack or meal on the go.

As vending machines shift away from selling junk food, soda, and cigarettes, the accessible format holds potential for businesses looking to boost sales of—and engagement with—better-for-you products. Providing health information along with products may encourage consumers to buy more, and more often.


This is an observation from our Inspire trend Guiding Choice which looks at how consumers have too much choice and too little time and as a result, are looking for shortcuts.
To learn more about Inspire click here.

Carli Gernot
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