NAMA's Fly-In Draws 275 To Washington; Participants Tell Vending Industry's Story

Posted On: 8/17/2016

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TAGS: NAMA Fly-In, vending industry advocacy, automatic retailing, office coffee service, micro market, micromarket, Eric Dell, Carla Balakgie, Felicia Billingslea, Jeffery Smith, Carla Balakgie, Scott Corley, Charlie Cook, Affordable Health Care Act of 2010, FDA calorie disclosure rule

WASHINGTON -- The second annual Fly-In legislative conference and grassroots outreach program organized by the National Automatic Merchandising Association attracted some 275 industry members to the nation's capital in mid-July. This year, participants were invited to bring younger family members with them, both as an educational experience and a demonstration of the family-centered nature of small business.

NAMA Fly-In, vending industry advocacy
UP THE HILL: Industry members from 45 states convened in Washington for the National Automatic Merchandising Association's 2016 Fly-In grassroots advocacy event. Here, they gather on the steps of the Capitol before forming state delegations to visit elected officials in the Senate and the House of Representatives and familiarize them with the business of vending, coffee service and micromarkets.

Welcoming Fly-In participants was NAMA senior vice-president of government affairs Eric Dell, who hailed the substantial increase in attendance over last year's approximately 200 registrants. "Last year's Fly-In was our first," he noted. "This year, 89% of the companies and 91% of the individuals returned." Operators comprised 45% of the total, Dell added; the number of states represented increased from 35 in 2015 to 41 this year.

"Why are we here? Because there are issues facing the vending industry that you are the best people to address," the NAMA executive explained. "As a lobbyist, I can talk all day; but elected officials want to hear from people in their districts. They want to talk to you."

Dell recalled that NAMA's current advocacy program dates back to 2010, when the association held its first public policy conference in Washington. The conferences have focused on federal agencies; the Fly-Ins focus on Congress.

He called Fly-In participants' attention to three items of particular concern to the industry at present. One, the Small Business Regulatory Flexibility Act, is the title of two companion bills, HR 527 and S 1536, introduced last year. The House passed HR 527; S 1536 is in committee.

The proposed measures would modernize the Regulatory Flexibility Act of 1980, which requires regulators to appropriately consider the effect of proposed rules on small businesses. NAMA observed that every agency interprets that requirement differently, and often can circumvent full compliance. HR 527 and S 1536 were written to rectify these problems.

Beyond support for pending legislation, Dell urged the citizen-advocates to communicate the industry's awareness of hot topics, including nutrition and sustainability, its initiatives designed to address them and its opposition to government restrictions that impose restrictions on vending or micromarket sale of products that are readily available through other channels. Dell advised to mention the vital role played by small businesses like vending, OCS and micromarket operations in bolstering local employment.

Key Personnel

He concluded by pointing out that the majority of the scheduled visits would be with senators and representatives' staff members, and emphasized that getting to know these people can be very valuable. "Staff members matter," he said. It is they who keep close track of day-to-day details, they usually are extremely well informed, and elected officials look to them for specifics when drafting legislation.

NAMA Fly-In, vending
PHOTOS: Fly-In officials, from left, are Eric Dell, Robin McKinnon, Felicia Billingslea, Jeffery Smith, Carla Balakgie, Scott Corley and Charlie Cook.

Updating Fly-In participants on the progress of putting calorie-disclosure rules into final form by the Dec. 1, 2016, deadline were Robin McKinnon and Felicia B. Billingslea of the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. And the regulation takes effect on that day. McKinnon, who is senior advisor, nutrition policy at the Center, observed that "calorie disclosure is important to consumers." The agency is drafting a guidance document for release in the near future, she said.

In view of the efforts by product suppliers and trade associations to add prominent calorie-disclosure information on the front of product packaging, and the need to coordinate the format of these labels with FDA's requirement for a legible type size, the agency has extended the deadline for compliance by operators whose machines are stocked with products bearing front-of-package calorie-content labels to July 26, 2018. [Editor' Note: the extension of compliance date was published by FDA in the Federal Register for Aug.1, 2016. | SEE STORY

McKinnon observed that cooperative effort is in everyone's best interest. "We want to continue our dialogue with you," she concluded.

Billingslea led off with a brief account of the calorie-labeling requirement, which appears in the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010. It applies to any operator of 20 or more vending machines -- including bulk venders -- dispensing foods that cannot be examined before purchase. The law assigned FDA the task of writing the appropriate rules.

The agency began by inviting parties affected by the rule to submit comments, McKinnon reported. More than 200 were received, initiating a conversation with suppliers and operators. The final rule covers the ways in which calorie-content information should be presented to consumers, including front-of-package labeling. Other methods include posting the information in or on the vending machine, or on an adjacent sign. Such a sign has to be visible to the patron at the same time as the product selection. And data can be displayed in an electronic format.

If front-of-pack labeling is used to convey calorie information, the label must not be obscured by part of the vending mechanism such as a spiral, the FDA official continued. And the machine must carry operator contact information; if this is not already in place, it can be added to a compliant calorie-disclosure sign.

An operation running fewer than 20 vending machines covered by the rule need not comply, Billingslea noted; but such an operator may choose to comply voluntarily, to conform to other operations.

Concerning enforcement, Billingslea explained the plan is to begin with outreach and liaison. Progressive warnings will follow in the event of continued noncompliance.

Giving Back

The climax of the Fly-In's first day was a dinner highlighted by a presentation by noted government affairs analyst Charlie Cook. Participants were welcomed by NAMA vice-chairman Jeffery R. Smith, All Star Services Inc. (Port Huron, MI).

The dinner opened with a military color guard, and included a special presentation on behalf of Operation Homefront, a national nonprofit that supports military families. NAMA president and chief executive Carla Balakgie explained that NAMA partnered with Operation Homefront to "give back" to military families by donating backpacks filled with school supplies. At Fly-In time, NAMA members had donated more than 100 backpacks to the worthy cause; six of them were presented to a local military family in a brief ceremony at the event. Information about Operation Homefront, which was founded in 2002, may be found online at

NAMA director Scott Corley, Coca-Cola Refreshments (Atlanta), introduced the featured speaker. Charlie Cook is publisher of the highly regarded online newsletter The Cook Report, which analyzes elections and campaigns at the federal and state gubernatorial levels.

Surveying the current presidential campaigns, Cook observed "The media focus on colorful personalities, but there are underlying forces at work." And they are producing some very unusual results: both major-party candidates have the highest negative ratings on record. "Many people think that neither of them would be a good president," he pointed out. "I think Hillary Clinton is more likely to win, but that it's going to be closer than many people believe."

Cook considers Clinton's edge to be that she does better among women voters than Trump does among men, and she runs more strongly among Democrats than Trump does among Republicans.

The veteran political commentator discussed the differing campaign organizations and strategies of the two candidates, as well as the structural constraints imposed by the Electoral College. "And politics is a game of addition," he said. "There's a limit to the number of groups you can alienate."

In any case, this election year is extremely unusual in the post-World War II era, Cook reiterated. "Why are we seeing all this? For one thing, the parties are more ideological than they have been; Democrats are more liberal than they were under Bill Clinton, and Republicans are more conservative than they were under George W. Bush."

Secondly, he continued, the old media landscape in which most citizens got their news from half a dozen print and television sources has given way to a fragmented environment in which people can shop for the news outlets that conform to their tastes .

The current international economy also is widely perceived to be disadvantageous to three key groups, Cook observed. "One is made up of people who graduated high school, college or graduate school after 2008; they're entering a much weaker job market, and this has changed the trajectory of many lives.

"The second is comprised of workers with a good 20th-century skills set," the speaker went on. "Those skills worked well then, but fewer jobs now require them, and they pay less. And the third is made up of people like coal miners, who believe that things in general have turned against them.

"And there are the 'culture wars' and a sense of betrayal, especially among Republicans," Cook reported. "Congressional leaders told their electorate that, if given majorities in both houses, they'd repeal everything those voters opposed. But they didn't." The Democrats have internal tensions of their own. "All in all, the dynamics are very strange," he summed up.

Fly-In participants broke up into state groups, each of which made scheduled visits to the offices of the legislators who represent them. NAMA hosted an open house at the Rayburn Office Building which featured a display of the state of the art in vending machines, workplace coffee brewers and micromarkets, as well as a buffet of typical contemporary micromarket and vending machine fresh foods. Like its predecessor at last year's inaugural event, this midday hospitality event proved extremely popular with congressional staff members.

NAMA's Eric Dell reports that work is already under way to make the 2017 Fly-In the biggest and best to date. Results of a NAMA survey taken among participants in this year's event have been tabulated. Dell said the response was strong and included a number of suggestions worthy of study. He urged all NAMA members to mark their calendars for next year's event, which will be held on July 25 and 26.

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