Vending machines in Howard County will have new selections beginning in October.

As a result of a law approved in 2015, vending machines will include healthy food and beverage options.

The contract for vending machines in Howard County government buildings will be announced on Friday, Sept. 13.

This marks the first vending machine contract renewal since passage of the law.

The contract will adhere to the nutritional standards requiring healthy food and beverages on county properties and for county programs.

The winning bidder will cover 84 vending machines – 52 with refrigerated products, 29 with snacks and three with heated foods or beverages.

What’s the law say? New vending machines on Howard County government property must include at least 75 percent healthy snacks and drinks, and offer water, fruit and vegetable juices and non-fat and low-fat milk.

The vending machines will include snacks with no trans-fat, no more than 200 calories per package, and less than 35 percent of calories from fat.

“Even though Howard County is in the top ten healthiest jurisdictions in the country, we still have work to do to get to number one and be the example of health and wellness for all,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “Among our Howard County neighbors earning under $50,000, over 40 percent eat fewer than one serving per day of fruit or vegetables.”

The Howard County plan reflects a larger trend in an industry that has been rapidly changing to help consumers figure out better options when they need an on-the-go snack.

Not your mother’s Coke machine

Nationwide, vending machines are a $25 billion business with more than five million machines. Local entrepreneur Larry Pellerito, who founded Columbia-based Achieve Vending as a part-time operation in 1992, switched to full-time in 1995.

“Vending machines have gotten healthier in the past few years because more people are demanding healthier options, and more manufactures are offering healthier products,” Pellerito said.

The machines are not only healthier, but they’ve gotten a lot more high-tech.
“At Achieve Vending, all of our vending machines are equipped with credit card readers that also take Apple or Samsung pay from any wireless device,” said Pellerito. “This technology allows us to monitor stock usage in real time and avoids machines running out of key products.”

On the rise are “micro markets,” or unattended retail environments, where consumers can engage with products on shelves and in open coolers, allowing them to pick up products and review nutrition information.

Consumers use a self-checkout kiosk with a cashless payment system – they pay by credit card, company card or by thumbprint.

Is snacking the new dining?

At the National Automatic Merchandising Association, where the motto is “Snacking is the New Dining,” a flagship program called Fit Pick was established in 2005, and periodically updates its guidelines to reflect new recommendations in nutrition.

The program promotes clear labeling and easy-to-understand nutrition information, particularly for calories and sodium.

All branches of the U.S. military and U.S. government have adopted the Fit Pick program for their vending machines.

Throughout the U.S., the convenience services industry provides 140,000 jobs with $7.21 billion in wages and pays $3.5 billion taxes at every level of government.