PHOTO: HealthVend president Patrick Meyn looks over pallets ready for shipment in the distributorship's Chicago-area warehouse. Founded to speed the entry of better-for-you snacks and beverages into the vending industry, HealthVend offers a wide variety of products with a minimum order of one pallet; operators can mix SKUs on the pallet. The ability to procure manageable quantities of selections for health-conscious patrons enables vending and micromarket operators to meet growing but diverse demand without increasing staleage.
ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL -- A trio of young distribution entrepreneurs noticed that the fast-growing variety of better-for-you snacks and beverages appearing on store shelves was not flowing through the vending pipeline. They responded by establishing HealthVend as a product distributor that would meet the increasing demand by operators for items of this kind. Launched a year and a half ago, HealthVend is a division of Norman Distribution, a full-service distributor and brand developer founded in 2009 by Norman Meczyk, Zachary Damato and Zachary Nudelman.
The business partners began by selling a single product out of a truck as they drove throughout the Midwest. Today, Norman distributes more than 1,000 individual SKUs to 2,000 convenience stores and independent grocery stores throughout the Midwest. It also operates a direct store delivery system in Chicago, serving a high-profile retail roster that includes Whole Foods, 7-Eleven and Walgreens.
Many of the products Norman Distribution was carrying qualified as "healthy," and several of the brands with which it worked were eager to make their way into vending machines. The Elk Grove Village, IL-based distributor also had received numerous inquiries from vending operators seeking such products. This prompted the owners to bridge the gap by creating HealthVend.
Heading up the "healthy vending" distributorship is division president Patrick Meyn. He joined the company in 2012 after serving as a consultant to a brokerage, where he had become familiar with the vending industry and its product distribution systems by launching a grab-and-go granola snack into 20,000 vending machines across the U.S.
About a third of the products Norman Distributing carries are well-suited for vending, foodservice and micromarkets, which helped HealthVend hit the ground running. HealthVend also benefits from its parent company's distribution infrastructure, which underpins its fulfillment system.
HealthVend's model is unique in that it provides operators with mixed-product pallets and flat-rate shipping to help them maximize "healthy" product variety while minimizing delivery costs.
"Our pallet program allows for orders weighing as much as 1,800 lbs. and standing 96" tall for one flat rate, so our customers usually order two weeks' or a month's worth of product, which ends up being less expensive than other distributors' weekly delivery fees," explained Meyn. "Operators can buy a pallet of mixed products, all of which have at least a six-month shelf life, so they don't have to buy a large amount of any one product and risk it going stale."
He emphasized that HealthVend's structure is a cost-effective way for operators to take delivery of healthy products, as long as they have the space to accommodate at least one full pallet at a time.
HealthVend can deliver to an operator's warehouse or home. It also has shipping docks across the U.S. at which it can "drop" pallets of product for operator customers to pick up at their convenience.
All of HealthVend's snacks and beverages are shelf-stable. They range from Skinny Pop popcorn and Pirate's Booty rice and corn puffs to Made Drinks' tea and juice blend, GoGoSqueez apple sauce and Enjoy Life chocolate bars.
PHOTO: HealthVend and its parent company, Norman Distribution, seek out products across retail channels that can meet specific needs of vending patrons, from gluten-free to low-calorie to natural.
Meyn said HealthVend analyzes the buying habits of each operator it serves, to ensure that enough of the product they order regularly is in stock at all times. It also works closely with its vendor customers to help them determine the products that best meet the tastes and nutritional demands of their clientele.
Meyn reported that he has assisted new vending companies to get their businesses up and running over the past few months by helping them leverage HealthVend's better-for-you products. He added that many operators use the company's website as a selling tool to showcase to clients and prospective locations the range of wholesome snacks and beverages they can provide.
Another HealthVend customer recently opened his first five micromarkets -- and didn't know what to sell. "I pulled an eight-month history of a customer we have who runs 30 micromarkets and shared it with him, and his program has been very successful," Meyn told VT. "Even though the other operator is not in his market, the majority of our products are a good fit anywhere in the U.S. where people want healthy alternatives. We don't just sell product; we put our consulting hats on as much as we can, to help operators succeed."
Eric Lutterman of Health-E Vend LLC (Franksville, WI), a HealthVend customer, reported that the brands it distributes differentiate the product choices he brings his clients from those of his competitors, and distinguish his company as a healthy vending specialist.
"Most of my products will not be found in traditional vending channels," said Lutterman. "I'm able to purchase my wholesale products from HealthVend at a great price that affords me a nice margin, and I'm able to offer a premium product at a fair and competitive price to my customers."
HealthVend's portfolio of healthy snack and beverage brands is steadily growing. The company has brought in some products on a trial basis at the request of its customers, and they have earned a permanent place in the distributor's catalog.
HealthVend also has the benefit of Norman's brand-development expertise in delivering new lines to the vending channel. Skinny Pop Popcorn is one of the brands Norman helped launch, and HealthVend remains one of the principal distributors of the snack line in the Midwest. Meyn told VT that the company's brand development side is working on a healthy dessert puff chip, and beverages that meet the USDA's latest guidelines for school nutrition.
"A big part of what we do is work with smaller brands as an incubator for lines that larger distributors don't pick up," explained Meyn. "We have developed several brands and launched them into marketplaces nationwide. We help with everything from determining a package size and design through finding a co-packer, to creating sell-sheets and marketing materials."
In some cases, Meyn explained, simply adapting the size of an existing product can make it suitable for sale through a vending machine and bring it into compliance with nutritional guidelines, such as those required by schools.
HealthVend has partnered with two of its large vending clients in the Chicago market to test new products. Its parent company also integrates up-and-coming vending products into retail tasting and sampling events throughout Chicago.
"We can leverage the shelf-space in our market and give brands a chance because of our relationship with retailers like Whole Foods," Meyn told VT. "A vending machine is also a billboard, and so it's a great way to promote a new or established brand."
Many snack and beverage companies are recognizing the value in vending's unique ability to showcase their products and drive trial, which Meyn said can benefit operators in many ways, including pricing. "HealthVend and Norman Distribution work to get better products at the traditionally accepted vending price-points by suggesting that brands consider exposure in vending machines as a marketing expense, similar to the window displays at Macy's during Christmas," he told VT.
In addition to distributing to vending and micromarket operators, HealthVend supplies its products to school districts, corporations and government organizations to assist in their healthy vending initiatives. It provides snacks and beverages to these organizations for resale, as well as for use in government-subsidized and employee discount programs.
In some cases, HealthVend works with school nutritionists, acting as the sourcing and buying company for healthy snacks and beverages sold in their vending machines, cafeterias and afterschool programs.