Vending Machines in Schools: The Definitive Guide

julio 29, 2014

The first record of vending machines in schools comes from the 1950s and it’s no surprise that even then, school vending machines were a hotly-contested issue. Back then—the first vending-machines-in-schools detractors were dentists who voiced their concern that vending machine products would rot children’s teeth.

Today, vending machines have come a long way. There are currently hundreds of thousands of vending machines in schools and dentists (and all of us) will be pleased to know that all vending machines in schools will be required to be healthy by July 1st of 2014.

A 2001 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed that students consume as much as half of their calories each day at school. There is both a huge opportunity to provide schools with healthy vending machines and a huge responsibility to ensure that students who are purchasing competitive food and beverages at school purchase something nourishing.

According to a recent article by Franchise Chatter: “The vending industry has changed significantly in just the last few years but food and beverage sales are still the leaders, with a lot more room for growth, especially in food vending. In 2011, vended food brought in $820 million” [here].

The following guide will walk you through the history of vending machines in schools, the growth of healthy vending, the changing legislative landscape surrounding vending machines in schools and the keys to succeeding as a vending operator or school location in this climate.

The History of Vending Machines In Schools

To understand why vending machines in schools is such a contentious issue right now, it’s important to take a step back and see the history of vending machines in schools.

1950s – While coin-operated food vending machines were introduced in 1888, the first records of vending machines in schools don’t exist until the 1950s. According to, these print references for vending machines targeted student consumption and report “the fact that dentists opposed vending machines because they promoted tooth decay. They confirm the machines dispensed candy and sweetened drinks.”

1970 – In 1970, the US Department of Agriculture agreed to amend the national School Lunch Program (came into place in 1946) to allow vending and food-service companies to participate.

1972 – School Lunch Act amendment published that allowed the sale of “competitive foods.”

1979 – The USDA passes competitive food rules for the first time. Regulations only limit the sale of foods of minimal nutritional value (FMNV). FMNV are defined in federal regulations as having less than 5 percent of the RDA per serving for eight key nutrients and include soft drinks, water ices, chewing gum and certain sugar-based candies (such as jelly beans). FMNV cannot be sold in foodservice areas during meal periods but may be sold anywhere else in a school at any time.

2010 – The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires the USDA to establish national nutrition standards for all food sold and served in schools at any time during the school day. It allows for exemptions for school-sponsored fundraisers if the fundraisers are approved by the school and are infrequent.

2013 – USDA proposes new competitive food rules and opens them to public comment for 60 days. After public comment and revision, the new Interim Final standards, called “Smart Snacks in School,” are published with a deadline date for school compliance of July 1, 2014.

2014 – Before July 1st, Schools transition to compliance with the Smart Snacks In School rules. After July 1st, schools must be in compliance.

2015 – The USDA finalizes the Smart Snacks In School rules after taking into account feedback from schools.

2016 – On July 1st, two specifications in the Interim Final Smart Snacks In School rules will get stricter: the sodium limit will go from 230mg to 200mg per snack item. Additionally, foods will no longer meet the ingredients requirement just for having 10% of the Daily Value of calcium, potassium, Vitamin D or fiber.

The Growth of Healthy Vending Machines In Schools

Consumers are demanding healthful foods. Even in areas without healthy vending legislation, consumer vending choices have shifted, according to the State of the Vending Industry report. Over the last few years, vending machine sales of candy and salty snacks have fallen while sales of “nutrition snacks” — a category that includes breakfast bars, granola bars, rice cakes and trail mix — have grown. In 2010 alone, nutrition snack sales increased 7.7% compared with 2009.

The vending industry has taken the lead in deciding what qualifies as a “healthful” snack in places where laws haven’t kept pace with consumer demand. For instance, the National Automatic Merchandising Assn., the top vending industry group, uses stickers to promote “Fit Pick” snacks, which have no more than 35% of calories from fat, 10% of calories from saturated fat and 35% of total weight from sugar. While this is a smart move for vending machines in offices and gyms, the USDA itself is leading the charge when it comes to the standards for foods sold in vending machines in schools.

For example, in June 2013, the USDA published its Interim Final Rules for what can be sold during the school day in vending machines, a la carte, student stores and via fundraising. Called “Smart Snacks In School,” these rules apply to any school that participates in the National School Lunch Program (100k+ schools nationally). We’ll delve more into the specifications of this new legislation below, but you can get a taste for what this means in the following Good Day Sacramento clip featuring HUMAN CEO and Co-Founder Sean Kelly.


There is a lot of opportunity for school locations and vending operators alike to leverage new USDA legislation to ensure that students and faculty eat healthfully. For potential vending operators, the time is now. As schools are transitioning into compliance now, there is a short window of time before schools choose their healthy vending provider.

For schools, the time is now to transition so that you have adequate time to introduce students to the new compliant products, garner feedback and work with food service staff to ensure a seamless and hassle-free transition.

If you work at or for a school and would like to bring healthy vending to your school please contact us