FT. LAUDERDALE, FL -- In 2007, VE South deployed its first Star Food vending machines, which automate the delivery of USDA-compliant, reimbursable meals in schools. A decade later, over five million reimbursable meals are being served annually through more than 500 machines in schools across the country.
In 36 states -- a figure that's steadily increasing -- it takes less than 20 seconds for a student to punch in an ID number and receive a multicomponent meal. Star Food can serve free or reduced cost breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks, all managed by the foodservice professionals at the schools.
According to VE South, the one-time cost of a single Star Food machine can be paid off in the first school year as the volume of reimbursable meals goes up 25% to 30%. The average machine feeds 50 or more meals during each daypart, each day of the school calendar year.
"We’re feeding more kids healthy food, increasing the revenue for the school and not increasing labor costs," said Joe Gilbert, vice-president and general manager of VE South.
Art Dunham, who recently retired as director of foodservice for Pinellas County, FL, schools, was responsible for feeding more than 104,000 students daily. "Our experience with adding Star Food machines in cafeterias in our district was that many of the students who got their reimbursable meals from the machines were students who had not been coming to the cafeteria before," he said. "The increase in meals served was incremental right from the first day the machines were installed."
Dunham added that the district saw the same results year after year as it deployed more machines in more schools and students who had chosen not eat in the cafeterias due to long lines or time constraints were able to get their lunches quickly and easily.