Vending today enjoys a much more positive image than it did a quarter of a century ago, and reporters perhaps are a bit more sympathetic to profit-and-loss concerns than they were in the immediate aftermath of the "counterculture." However, there remains a certain predisposition to apply a double standard in any controversy involving a public and a private organization.
As an example, there has been a good deal of discussion over the past year or two concerning the sale of soft drinks and snacks in schools. Some of the reporting of this discussion has stated or implied that the culprits are vending machines, which lurk in school corridors and inveigle children into buying "junk food."
More informed journalists have reported that schools themselves sometimes operate manual snack bars, rather like Navy "geedunks," selling confections to raise funds for a wide range of extracurricular activities.
It often is interesting to learn that school administrators and even foodservice managers have been among the more determined opponents of governmental proposals to do away with the sale of soft drinks and snacks in schools, by legislation or regulation. Many schools have objected that they need the revenue, the sales dollars or vending machine commissions, in order to continue athletic and student enrichment programs.
There probably is some valuable journalistic investigation to be done in situations where parents evidently demand a total educational experience for their children that costs more than they are willing to pay in taxes, while they give those children the means to indulge their preferences in refreshments, and at the same time object to the availability of refreshments that the children prefer. But that would be a hard story to write. It is much easier to blame vending machines, if any happen to be available.
Another recent example might be the observation, during periods of energy price increases or shortages of the kind experienced last year, that many vending machines have illuminated displays, and these are especially visible at night. A certain sort of writer begins to speculate about how much electricity those machines are using, and to imagine that the vending industry is wasting power in callous disregard of the public good.
If they thought about it for five minutes, perhaps they would recognize that fluorescent lamps are pretty efficient illuminators. They also might notice that the modern tendency in street lighting is to install bright, spherical lamps, no longer equipped with the old reflectors that perched atop the tungsten bulbs. These new lamps direct a great deal of their light upward and to the sides, where it illuminates nothing that needs to be illuminated, and at the taxpayers' expense. But, since a street lighting district is not actuated by the profit motive, it is nearly immune to charges of extravagance and squandering. This also is true of homeowners who keep their air conditioners on all the time - while they may be heedless, they're not portrayed evil.
This skewed perception has been prevalent for well over a century, and there seems to be no cure for it except gradual education. As we said, there are some promising signs. Meanwhile, there well may be a real benefit to recognizing that if you can't beat them, you can join them.
There are overtly nutritious products that youngsters enjoy, and that can be offered to them in vending machines. Milk, especially the new flavored styles, is one that has gotten a good deal of attention over the past four or five years.
And there are readily available technologies that enable vending machines to minimize their energy consumption when no prospective customers are nearby, while coming awake when those prospects approach. Operators who develop programs based on these developments should be able to get a fair amount of positive publicity out of it, if they tell the world what they're doing.
There is nothing whatever wrong with "doing well by doing good." Rather, it is a win-win strategy. If an operator can increase sales, reduce expenses and enhance the company's reputation by adjusting the product mix or adopting a new technology, there is every reason to do it.
It might be entertaining to run a fleet of alternative-fuel vehicles, benefit from the available incentives, and start asking what kind of cars the investigative reporters are driving.