Sean Kelly: Building a better vending machine
This entrepreneur is creating a company where the goal is to make healthy food more convenient than junk food.
Mon, Apr 16 2012 at 9:48 AM
CONVENIENT HEALTHY FOOD: Sean Kelly of HUMAN Healthy Vending. Kelly's vending machines are energy-efficient and offer healthy snacks and drinks. (Photo courtesy of Sean Kelly)
“Sustainability starts with our own health,” says Sean Kelly, a high-energy entrepreneur taking an icon of junk food – the vending machine – and turning it into something that is actually good for you.
Kelly is co-founder of California-based HUMAN Healthy Vending, a company committed to increasing access to healthy foods and drinks. HUMAN – Helping Unite Man and Nutrition – refrigerated vending machines are stocked with granola bars, protein bars, dried fruit, trail mix, organic juices, premium waters, organic cookies, organic chocolate milk and more. Each machine contains a mix of more than 1,000 products customized to the location.
Better eating habits are essential to stem the tide of obesity, says Kelly. Yet high-calorie, high-fat, high-sugar junk food is much easier to find.
“If you don’t have access to healthy foods, nothing else matters,” says Kelly. “Our goal is to make healthy food more convenient to buy than junk foods and put it absolutely everywhere.”
The company seems to be moving toward achieving that goal. About 500 HUMAN vending machines were in schools, hospitals, health clubs and office buildings in early 2011. That number has jumped to about 1,100 now and more than 2,000 machines will be in the field by the end of 2012, Kelly says.
HUMAN Healthy Vending machines are found in Atlanta, Denver, Houston, Washington, D.C., and more than 70 other markets. Machines will be found in 125 markets by the end of the year.
The vending machines – built according to HUMAN Healthy Vending specifications – incorporate cutting-edge vending technology. The machines are refrigerated to allow a wide mix of products – from yogurt to cold drinks to organic snacks. Like a growing number of vending machines, HUMAN vending machines are equipped with card readers to allow purchases with a debit card or credit card.
The HUMAN machines are 30-50 percent more energy-efficient than traditional vending machines, Kelly says. The savings could contribute significantly to the bottom line of a location such as a school, which may use the profits from campus vending machines to fund programs or projects.
“A school could save hundreds of dollars per machine per year in energy costs,” Kelly says.
Most of the vending machines come equipped with a 23-inch LCD television screen that displays nutritional information and, in some cases, advertising that generates additional revenue for the machine location.
Making healthy eating easier results in healthy profits, Kelly says. Schools that replace traditional vending machines filled with soft drinks, chips and candy with HUMAN Healthy Vending machines see higher sales about 90 percent of the time. The company guarantees an increase in revenue to schools that replace all the machines on campus.
The lure of junk food is strong, Kelly acknowledges. When a healthy vending machine and junk food-filled traditional vending machine share space, there is only about a 50-50 chance the HUMAN machine will take in more revenue.
The company recently launched the industry’s first line of vending machines to vend healthy hot foods, cold drinks, and snacks simultaneously from the same machine. HUMAN’s line of hot food vending machines, coined the “Hot HUMAN,” vend cold drinks, such as Zico Coconut Water, healthy snacks, such as Pop Chips and Pirate’s Booty, and entire entrées – such as an Amy’s Organic entrées or Kashi frozen entrées, which the machines heat automatically before dispensing.
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