How Vending Machines Can Fight Against Food Deserts

Latest machines offer versatile range of healthy food and beverage options
Everest Ben Gaskill Headshot
Ice Vending Machine Main Image
For small local grocery stores, ice vending machines can eliminate the logistical needs and costs associated with trucking in bagged ice.

“Food desert” is a term that has gained more prominence in recent years. It describes any geographic area where residents have limited access to healthy food or clean water. Found in both urban and rural areas across the United States, food deserts are typically the result of poor socioeconomic conditions, limited transportation options and historical neglect by municipal governments. This often translates into pronounced health disparities and elevated rates of chronic diseases among the affected residents.

Fortunately, as awareness of the existence of food deserts builds, local governments and community groups have begun devising strategies to make sure that healthy food and clean water are available to everyone.

 [Read more: "Food Insecurity on the Rise: Report"]

To that end, vending machines could offer a partial solution. Having evolved beyond their traditional role of providing only sodas and sugary snacks, the latest machines can offer a versatile range of healthy food options such as dried fruit, salad bowls, and fresh ice and water. This shift in vending machine capabilities offers an alternative approach to addressing the challenges posed by food deserts. 

First Steps

Any strategy to combat food deserts will need to be a scalable one. Otherwise, having just one or two collection points will do nothing to address the core issues of availability and accessibility. Vending machines have an advantage here, since they’re easy to set up and operate. All that’s needed is a basic power connection and, for ice and water machines, access to a water main.

This means that communities, regardless of their size or resources, can set up these machines almost anywhere. To get started, local community groups could seek collaboration with local businesses to secure suitable locations, such as outside grocery stores, in parks and at recreational centers. Funding can be sourced through community fundraising initiatives, grants and partnerships with local businesses. Any generated profits can then be reinvested to procure additional machines or directed toward alternative strategies to combat food deserts. 

Working With Local Businesses

Small local grocery stores may find the substantial expense of acquiring multiple new vending machines to be daunting. To alleviate those concerns, community groups could emphasize the long-term financial benefits that these machines can bring to store owners. For instance, ice vending machines can eliminate the logistical needs and costs associated with trucking in bagged ice. Additionally, vending machines of all types can alleviate understaffing issues and allow store products to be sold outside business hours.

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The latest vending machines also tend to be designed with eco-friendliness in mind. Single-use plastic waste is kept to a minimum or eliminated entirely through biodegradable packaging materials. Moreover, healthy foods sourced from local sustainable farms can be a great way to support the community and attract environmentally conscious customers. Emphasizing these advantages allows community leaders to showcase how these investments can translate into savings and contribute to local businesses’ overall profitability and sustainability. 

Management and Maintenance

For community-owned vending machines, clear guidelines and responsibilities should be established to ensure that each machine undergoes regular restocking and routine maintenance checks. While many vending machine manufacturers tend to design their machines with durability in mind, occasional breakdowns do occur. Before making any purchases, carefully review the manufacturer’s repair guidelines. Opt for machines with minimal moving parts that can typically be fixed with just a screwdriver, eliminating the need for specialized training or equipment for repairs.

If theft or vandalism is a concern, place each vending machine in a well-lit and monitored area to safeguard the community’s investment. It may also be advisable to acquire machines that exclusively accept cashless payments, as this can reduce their attractiveness as targets for theft, while also streamlining payment collections. Increasing numbers of vending machine manufacturers have also begun rolling out machines with remote monitoring capabilities. These can allow community-appointed managers to check on a machine’s status in real time, assessing its stock levels, daily sales and whether a maintenance check is needed. 

Final Thoughts

In summary, food deserts are a pressing concern that requires innovative strategies to tackle effectively. While vending machines may be just one part of an overall strategy, they can be an effective one that brings more benefits to a community than might be expected. Beyond offering accessible and healthy food choices, these machines can also serve as a reliable income stream for local businesses and community organizations, fostering economic growth within the community.

About the Author

Ben Gaskill

Ben Gaskill is the co-owner and VP of sales of Apopka, Fla.-based Everest Ice and Water Systems. With more than 25 years of experience in sales, sales management and training, Gaskill has a successful background in high-level sales strategies, business development and calling on c-level through end users, selling both capital equipment and an extensive product line.
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