New Vending Machines Offer Fresh Food Choices

Partnership with local entity provides healthy options

By Daniel Meyer

When most people think of vending machines, the typical junk food and high-sugar drink selections usually come to mind.

Candy bars.

Cookies.

Potato chips.

Soda pop.

But employees and visitors of the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and two other locations in Western New York now have access to numerous healthy food and beverage options, wholesome choices that include breakfast, lunch and snack items and numerous drink selections.

Working with Farmers & Artisans Market in Snyder to keep the vending machines stocked, the growing concept of workplace wellness has been enhanced thanks to the creation of a healthy vending machine pilot program that has evolved into a regular meal option for many local residents.

“You cannot be at your best and be able to take care of others if you yourself aren’t making sure you are healthy and functioning at your highest level,” said Beth Machina, healthy communities catalyst for Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc. “Workplace wellness is getting a lot of attention and rightfully so. It’s because of that focus that overall employee wellness programs are constantly being scrutinized and revamped, so the idea of easier access to healthy and wholesome food items and beverages is something that is being embraced.”

According to research from the American Health Association, diseases affecting working adults account for approximately two-thirds of health care costs nationwide, which is why companies from various industries have established workplace wellness programs and continue to develop and tweak them.

Feedback from employee surveys from companies in the public and private sectors have found that lack of access during the workday to affordable nutrition choices is a concern, leading to efforts by employers to encourage healthier behaviors, especially when employees take meal breaks.

Refrigerated vending machines that offer healthy meals to-go are now located inside the Innovation Center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the Liberty Building on Main Street in downtown Buffalo and a local law firm. They will be soon introduced to the Dent Neurology on Sheridan Drive in Amherst.

“We have developed our ‘grab-and-go’ health dining options and the idea of a vending machine that conveniently provides fresh healthy food,” said Julie Blackman, owner of Farmers & Artisans Market. “These products represent the next level of food service that combines convenience, freshness and state-of-the-art technology.

“Prices for most food items and beverages roughly range between $3 to $10. The options include Chicken Buddha Bowls, fresh vegetable salads, Bootleg Bucha, granola bars, iced tea and cold press juices.

“We’re always taking suggestions and want to hear from people on what they want made available to them,” said Blackman. “I love interacting with the doctors, the nurses and support staff and learning what they like and just as importantly what they might not care for.”

Blackman regularly visits the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus to host what she calls “demonstration days” that include samples of food items and beverages that she offers to employees to help gather ideas for future vending machine options.

The vending machines, which are restocked roughly every other day, are tracked by an instant computerized inventory system. The machines accept credit cards and also offer the customer-friendly option of having all purchase receipts archived via email.

Machina, the healthy communities catalyst for Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, said the close relationship with Blackman and her team at Farmers & Artisans Market has allowed for healthier behaviors to be easily encouraged among the thousands of employees from various medical facilities on the 120-acre campus, including Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and John R. Oishei Children’s Hospital.

“The fast and quick options that are affordable, wholesome and locally sourced are being received with great enthusiasm,” said Machina. “The entire model that we now follow is what we seeking all along.”

Blackman said following the installation of the vending machine at Dent Neurology she will continue to explore the possibility of additional “smart fridges” being located in other office spaces throughout Western New York.

“If there is a need and a demand I definitely want to hear from employers who are seeking more information about ‘grab-and-go’ health vending and healthy meal planning options,” said Blackman.

“The development of what started in early 2018 as a pilot program has developed into something that proves that it is worth investing in your employees’ health and overall well being,” said Machina.

Photo: Refrigerated vending machines that offer healthy meals to-go are now located at several places in downtown Buffalo. Options include Chicken Buddha Bowls, fresh vegetable salads, Bootleg Bucha, granola bars, iced tea and cold press juices.

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