NAMA Commits To Aligning Vend Menus With Health Criteria

Posted On: 7/16/2019

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WASHINGTON, DC - The National Automatic Merchandising Association kicked off its annual Fly-In and Advocacy Summit today by announcing that its members have completed the initial phase of developing a public health commitment, with the goal of finalizing it by the end of 2019.

The commitment is designed to increase the availability in vending machines of products that meet nationally recognized public health standards.

NAMA reported that it has completed the data-analysis phase of the project, which examined leading products sold through the channel and how they match up against public health standards for healthier options. This important component, in addition to a field test, will enable NAMA to understand where the industry stands today in offering healthier options, a critical step in establishing a definitive baseline against which to measure the industry's progress toward its public health commitment.

"NAMA regards this initiative as an ambitious, substantial step by our industry to meet consumer demand for healthier choices," said NAMA president and chief executive officer Carla Balakgie. "In the months ahead, we will continue to work with our members to formalize a concrete goal leading to a meaningful increase in the number of 'better for you' options in the marketplace."

Balakgie also said that NAMA will launch a major effort to educate its members on the initiative, and to engage with food manufacturers to encourage them to support the public health commitment through new products and marketing.

NAMA has had an industry wellness initiative in place for nearly 15 years. In 2005, the vending association launched FitPick, a program providing nutrition information at the point of purchase, identifying products that meet recognized nutrition standards.

In 2015, NAMA relaunched the program, including "FitPick Select" updated target nutrition standards, aligning with the United States Department of Agriculture's Smart Snacks in Schools.

"Fit Pick demonstrates that the industry has had a commitment to public health and healthier choices for a long time," Balakgie pointed out. "It was created as a labeling system to indicate products that meet certain standards, and as a marketing program. But it did not commit the industry to be scrutinized for the availability of such products, and to be measured, the way this new initiative does."

She emphasized that what is deemed "healthy" is relative and evolving, and NAMA's goal in developing its new commitment is to determine where the current standards align, taking into account the USDA's Smart Snacks in School, FDA's Nutrition Facts Label and the goals of nonprofit public health organizations -- like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, American Heart Association, Partnership for a Healthy America and Center for Science in the Public Interest -- to meet as many criteria as possible.

"We see consumption patterns, and better-for-you product really are selling with the numbers to substantiate that," Balakgie reported. "Our goal is to have as many of those groups as we can stand up and applaud us in this effort." She added that NAMA is still considering how Fit Pick will evolve, or be reinvented, in line with the sweeping new public health commitment.

"This is the right thing to do for our industry and consumers," added Greg Sidwell, NAMA chair and president of nationwide vend product brokerage G&J Marketing & Sales (Palm Harbor, FL). "NAMA has had a longstanding commitment in this area through our FitPick and FitPick Select programs. This initiative represents a giant stride by our industry to expand and support efforts to improve America's public health."

Balakgie emphasized that, from the outset, the goals of the initiative, which has been more than a year in the making, were to make it meaningful to both the industry and public and private health organizations; measurable, in order to demonstrate and substantiate success and progress; and business-tenable for operators.

NAMA has retained Keybridge, a Washington, DC-based data analytics firm, to monitor its members' efforts to meet the public health goal. Keybridge has worked with the beverage industry and major food companies, including McDonald's Corp., to monitor self-led industry public health commitments.

"Our team of experts, together with leaders from the convenience services industry, have employed rigorous analyses and objectivity both in the development of this commitment and in preparation for the monitoring and measurement phases," said Keybridge president Robert F. Westcott.

A working group consisting primarily of NAMA board members -- representing vending companies and product manufacturers -- helped define the concept for the commitment, and several committees and advisory boards have played a role in shaping it.

Balakgie explained that NAMA already had compiled a database of thousands of better-for-you vend products that meet various nutritional criteria, and has sales data that identify the current top sellers in vending machines. It will work with Keybridge to match sales and SKU data, gathered from participating operators' machines via telemetry, to measure the industry's compliance and progress.

"We are taking time to build a system that addresses every operational nuance, so the data flows seamlessly into the system from operators who voluntarily participate, and we're encouraging all members to consider participating," she said. "We'll accomplish more at a quicker pace if all operators of scale are in it from the outset, and many of our board members represent those larger companies and have been in it from the beginning. Big, small, national, regional or local, we hope all of our members will be a part if they can."

The commitment will focus exclusively on vending initially, because that's the segment of the industry most targeted by health advocates, according to Balakgie. It may expand to other convenience services industry segments down the road.

Balakgie noted that the timing for the kickoff of the vending association's sweeping public health commitment is right for many reasons.

"There's enough consumer demand for a great variety of product meeting other criteria than 'fun-for-you,' and availability of product for operators to meet it," she observed. "We don't want to overcorrect in either direction."

Balakgie also pointed to increased pressure at every level of government and in the private sector to give vending consumers access to a wide range of better-for-you options. This has prompted NAMA to step up its commitment.

"We can get farther faster by doing something we fully support, and believe in ourselves, before change is forced upon us in a way that isn't as beneficial for all parties," Balakgie stated. "We've been in discussion with many key public health organizations about our initiative, and they have been impressed with the rigor, discipline and seriousness with which we're undertaking it."

Balakgie added that with as many as 300 industry members and NAMA officials gathering in Washington for the Fly-In, the time is right to out the commitment front and center when they talk with their elected officials and the news media.