The National Association of Blind Merchants will conduct a Business Leadership and Superior Training (BLAST) conference at the Indianapolis Downtown Marriott Hotel from May 20 through 23, and "healthy" vending is a central concern to conference organizers and participants alike. The topic will be explored by a diverse panel at the Healthy Vending Forum, which will convene on Monday, May 20, and Tuesday, May 21.
Facilitating the forum on Tuesday will be Vending Times senior editor Emily J. Jed, who has written extensively on the topic of nutrition and "wellness" concerns as they affect the vending industry.
"The National Association of Blind Merchants, a division of the National Federation of the Blind, is the voice of the nation's blind vendors," said NABM president Nicky Gacos. "It is appropriate that the senior editor of the most important trade publication in vending and concessions will facilitate this panel.
"We must confront what may be the most devastating challenge facing our industry," Gacos emphasized. "The issue of legislation and regulation to mandate high percentages of what health advocates refer to as nutritional products is of greatest consequence to Randolph-Sheppard, because these mandates are focused on operators in public buildings.
"Blind vendors care about the health of our customers, but we cannot be bullied into accepting arbitrary and capricious mandates," the NABM president stated. "Whether the most vociferous advocates for these unreasonable mandates want to admit it or not, they will kill opportunities for many blind vendors. Programs like FitPick developed by the National Automatic Merchandising Association make good sense, and they strike a balance between a business's survival and increasing healthy options."
Forum panelists will include representatives of government agencies and NAMA (Chicago), as well as vending operators. Scheduled to participate are Dr. Joel Kimmons, a nutrition specialist from the Centers for Disease Control; Denise Funkhouser, director of the Occupancy Administration Division of the General Services Administration; a senior government relations counsel from NAMA; Susan Klein, consultant for the Iowa Department of Public Health; blind vendors Billy Brumlow and Anthony Paolini, from Tennessee and Delaware; and Katherine Bishop from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (Washington), one of the most aggressive advocates for strict legislative mandates.
According to NABM executive director Kevan Worley, "The threats to the livelihoods of blind vendors have become acute. California legislators have just passed out of committee restrictions to the customer's ability to choose what they buy. It is almost as though they are targeting blind vendors. The discussion we are having at BLAST will be important. The advocacy we must now do to protect our livelihoods is critical."
The forum will provide information and perspectives from the most important stakeholders in the "healthy vending" arena. In addition, there will be training by experts on Wednesday afternoon, May 22.
The Business Leadership and Superior Training Conference has become the principal conference for blind vendors and state licensing agency management and staff over the past decade.
Those wishing to participate can register for Indy Super BLAST 2013 by visiting blindmerchants.org. The conference registration fee is $200. Room reservations at the Marriott may be made by calling (877) 303-0104; rooms are available at a special conference rate of $124 a night plus applicable taxes, effective from Friday, May 17 through Thursday, May 23.
Assistance with registration and further information may be requested from NABM by calling (866) 543-6808.