Healthy Workplaces: A Healthy Vending Success Story from Colorado Springs

Change is hard. Change can be especially hard when it  comes to vending machine options. Pleasing the palates of employees and patrons is one of many challenges faced by health advocates pushing for healthy vending options in our workplaces. Healthy vending proposals face additional hurdles in overcoming municipal approval processes and winning political support in order to be successful.

For Brian Kates, Parks Operations Administrator for Colorado Springs, the key has been aligning with city goals and keeping the right partners on board during the transition process. Kates has been spearheading the City of Colorado Springs’ push to modernize its vending machines and increase the number of healthy options.

“Canteen, a large national vending firm, has been our longtime partner and they were really excited to begin this transition,” says Kates, “The firm was already seeing a shift in demand to healthier vending products, and had already established criteria for what made a healthy snack.”

Kates has been able to work with Canteen to facilitate the transition process and formulate a proposal for city leadership that would move vending options to 100 percent healthy products in three years. The rollout so far has been smooth, according to Kates, who highlights the participation of city employees in the process of building a vending portfolio. “One of our next steps is to hold a taste-testing. Employees will have the opportunity to try out a number of different products and say, ‘Do I like the way this tastes? Would I actually buy this?’”

Employees and visitors to the city’s municipal building, golf courses, parks, police stations and other facilities falling under the proposal’s scope won’t have to cut their afternoon potato chip purchases out of their lives immediately, though. The plan calls for a three-year phase in period, during which Canteen will gradually substitute healthy vending options for old favorites and prices on the unhealthy options will increase slightly. “The city won’t lose a penny,” according Kates, citing the popularity of taste-tested options, the wide variety of options available, and upgraded vending machines that now accept credit cards and other forms of payment beyond loose change.

While Kates’ plan doesn’t face any traditional approval process through city council, it still needs a nod of approval from the mayor’s office. However, Kates doesn’t see this as much of a roadblock. “The proposal is coming through the city’s sustainability council, which was set up by Mayor John Suthers in 2016. “Everything we are proposing is already in line with the city’s 2030 sustainability goals and we have broad support from the council.” The council’s chair will officially make the recommendation and present the plan to the mayor’s office in the coming weeks.

If you are interested in looking into healthy vending options for your municipality’s facilities, the following checklist will help guide you to a successful outcome:

  • Convene appropriate municipality departments- If you are looking to make your changes town or citywide, you’re going to need buy in and support from other departments. Who can you work with from other teams to help make your case?
  • Align with municipality priorities- If you have  a master plan that contains goals for health, sustainability or other related themes, see if healthy vending could help support those goals. This will help you make your case and gain political support.
  • Work with your vendor- Does your vendor already have a line of healthy options? Have they helped other municipalities or large institutions through this process? What can they do to make the transition revenue neutral?
  • Work with other staff- New vending options have to be palatable to the people you are selling them to. Hold taste testings and find out what your colleagues will and won’t buy.
  • Take your time: Phase in your healthy options and give people time to find new favorites. Your colleagues won’t be happy if their favorite snack disappears over the weekend.